State me­dia gloss on Rakhine con­di­tions blasted for ig­nor­ing ‘re­al­ity on the ground’

The Myanmar Times - - News - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­

RIGHTS groups are con­cerned that “bla­tant false­hoods” in state me­dia could ex­ac­er­bate ten­sions in Rakhine State, af­ter The Global New Light of Myan­mar pub­lished a de­nial that Mus­lim res­i­dents face re­stric­tions on their move­ments and are re­fused ac­cess to vi­tal ser­vices.

The opin­ion piece in the staterun news­pa­per fol­lows deadly at­tacks on three bor­der guard posts in Maung­daw and Rathedaung town­ships on Oc­to­ber 9. The gov­ern­ment has blamed the at­tacks on Is­lamist ter­ror­ists, prompt­ing wide­spread fear in Rakhine State and beyond. Videos of un­clear ori­gin have since ap­peared on­line with armed men call­ing for ji­had and for Ro­hingya rights.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has vowed the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the at­tacks will be “fair” and ac­cord­ing to rule of law.

But yet-to-be con­firmed re­ports of ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings and wide­spread de­struc­tion of Mus­lim vil­lages in north­ern Rakhine State by the mil­i­tary as they hunt for the cul­prits has led to fears that the at­tacks will be used to jus­tify fur­ther rights abuses on the more than 1 mil­lion Ro­hingya who live in the state.

The Global New Light of Myan­mar ar­ti­cle calls on “in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties to re­view their poli­cies, to­wards the atroc­i­ties of the ex­trem­ist at­tack­ers” and con­trasts what it calls the “neigh­bor­li­ness” of Bangladesh “against a back­drop of height­ened fab­ri­ca­tions that a num­ber of Mus­lims liv­ing in Rakhine state face dis­crim­i­na­tion, re­stric­tions of move­ments and de­nial of ac­cess to ser­vices”.

The re­stric­tions un­der which the Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity are forced to live have been widely at­tested to and con­demned by nu­mer­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the UN.

Re­spond­ing to the ar­ti­cle Phil Robert­son, deputy di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch Asia di­vi­sion, said “the re­al­ity is the Ro­hingya face se­vere re­stric­tions on move­ments” which cur­tail their abil­ity to earn a liveli­hood and ac­cess ba­sic ser­vices.

“The gov­ern­ment should re­alise that its ef­forts to elicit sym­pa­thy and co­op­er­a­tion to find those who at­tacked the bor­der po­lice camps in Maung­daw are un­der­mined when its mouth­piece prints bla­tant false­hoods about the con­tin­ued re­stric­tions Ro­hingya face in Rakhine State,” he said.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said that their ob­servers had wit­nessed first­hand the dam­ag­ing im­pact of the re­stric­tions placed on Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in Rakhine State.

“Deny­ing the ex­is­tence of long­stand­ing re­stric­tions on the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion, and the se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties they cre­ate for peo­ple’s daily lives, not only ig­nores the re­al­ity on the ground, it will hin­der any ef­forts to­wards find­ing durable so­lu­tions to the sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine State,” said Laura Haigh, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Myan­mar re­searcher.

Ms Haigh cau­tioned against ad­di­tional re­stric­tions. “The gov­ern­ment has the duty and the right to main­tain law and order, how­ever, it must en­sure that its re­sponse to th­ese re­cent at­tack does not fur­ther com­pound the long­stand­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and rights abuses that Ro­hingya in north­ern Rakhine State suf­fer,” she said.

Her warn­ing came as the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (UNOCHA) re­ported yes­ter­day that hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse in­ter­ven­tions in north­ern Rakhine State were be­ing co­or­di­nated but were “ham­pered by move­ment re­stric­tions”.

Over 40, and ac­cord­ing to some re­ports as many as 90, peo­ple – mainly Mus­lims – have been killed as Tat­madaw troops con­duct “clear­ance op­er­a­tions” in their search for cul­prits. Hun­dreds of homes are re­ported to have been razed with thou­sands of peo­ple feared dis­placed. Fur­ther at­tacks on po­lice have also been re­ported.

The Global New Light of Myan­mar did not re­spond to re­quests yes­ter­day from The Myan­mar Times as to what had prompted the ar­ti­cle.

Western me­dia are fre­quently ac­cused by au­thor­i­ties and na­tion­al­ist ac­tivists in Myan­mar as be­ing bi­ased in favour of the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion.

Asia-based pub­li­ca­tions have gen­er­ally been less crit­i­cal; how­ever, on Oc­to­ber 16, the Thai news­pa­per The Na­tion pub­lished a strongly worded ed­i­to­rial head­lined: “The [Myan­mar] gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary will have to bear the blame if es­tranged Mus­lim com­mu­nity de­cides to take up arms.”

The Na­tion’s opin­ion piece said, “The sit­u­a­tion would not have de­scended to this level if Myan­mar had been more even-handed in its treat­ment of the Ro­hingya.” It went on to de­pict re­cent events in north­ern Rakhine State in terms of eth­nic mi­nor­ity re­sis­tance else­where in the coun­try.

The Global New Light of Myan­mar opin­ion piece em­pha­sised Bangladesh’s “neigh­bourly” re­sponse to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing the fact it handed over sus­pects al­leged to have taken part in the Oc­to­ber 9 at­tacks. Around 230,000 Ro­hingya are es­ti­mated to be live in Bangladesh and some of the at­tack­ers are al­leged to have spent time there.

The state me­dia ar­ti­cle also sought to pro­mote Myan­mar’s re­la­tion­ship with the EU. “At a time when we are tak­ing ef­fec­tive ac­tion to de­fend against, re­spond to and de­feat all armed vi­o­lent at­tacks and at­tempted at­tacks in ac­cord­ing to the law … the pro­vi­sion of as­sis­tance by Bangladesh and the EU in the form of en­cour­age­ment is an [sic] valu­able as­set ca­pa­ble of hold­ing the per­pe­tra­tors ul­ti­mately ac­count­able.”

Asked for a re­sponse to the ar­ti­cle, an EU spokesper­son pointed to the lat­est Coun­cil Con­clu­sions on Myan­mar adopted jointly by the For­eign Min­is­ters of all 28 EU mem­ber states in June 2016, which says, “Re­stric­tions on the free­dom of move­ment should be lifted and unim­peded ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices should be en­sured for all.”

The spokesper­son re­ferred to a pre­vi­ous state­ment from Oc­to­ber 11 in which the EU said it “stands with Myan­mar in th­ese dif­fi­cult mo­ments”, but re­jected the im­pli­ca­tion in state me­dia that the EU state­ment could be taken as an “en­cour­age­ment” of the cur­rent mil­i­tary re­sponse in north­ern Rakhine.

“The only thing we en­cour­age is a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion in ac­cor­dance with the rule of law as well as re­spon­si­ble ac­tion and re­straint by all par­ties,” she said.

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

State me­dia re­ferred to the dis­crim­i­na­tion that Mus­lim IDPs in Rakhine face as “height­ened fab­ri­ca­tions”.

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