Calls for Rakhine access
Human rights groups are continuing to demand access to northern Rakhine State where thousands have been displaced in the wake of a deadly assault earlier this month.
AS some schools in northern Rakhine State prepare to reopen today, human rights groups continue to call for greater access to the region where thousands have been displaced in the wake of a deadly assault on border guard posts earlier this month.
The European Union’s Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) estimated that 13,000 people had been displaced as of October 21, while the UN’s World Food Programme has said it cannot deliver rations to tens of thousands in northern Rakhine State who rely on the provisions.
“Recent violence in northern Rakhine State has led the army to deny access to aid agencies that provide essential healthcare and food to people at grave risk,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on October 21. “The Rohingya and others have been especially vulnerable” in the aftermath of 2012 violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the state, “and many rely on humanitarian aid to survive”, Mr Adams added.
Self-identifying Rohingya Muslims make up the majority in northern Rakhine State. The largely stateless group have been subject to restrictions on movement and other basic rights since 2012 unrest.
The northern part of Rakhine State has been heavily militarised since the pre-dawn October 9 attacks, which killed nine Border Guard Police officers, as well as eight of the assailants.
According to The Global New Light of Myanmar, some civilian populations have begun to return home, with an October 22 report saying about 300 people had been “given the all clear” to go back to their villages in Maungdaw township. The state-run newspaper added that the Rakhine returnees had been among more than 400 people sheltering at the Aungmyay Bodhi monastery in Maungdaw town.
ECHO put the number of displaced Rohingya at 10,000, compared with 3000 ethnic Rakhine. The former were “confined in a few villages of Maungdaw township, with urgent need of protection, food, shelter, and sanitation”, it said, while the latter were spread across temples, monasteries and schools in the towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, as well as in a tented football field in the state capital Sittwe.
The government has declared northern Rakhine State an “operational zone” where a combined force of police and Tatmadaw soldiers have been conducting lethal “clearance operations”. Access has been severely curtailed, making it difficult to independently verify much of the information being provided by officials or state media. Security personnel have stressed the need to recover dozens of weapons that were stolen from the border guard posts on October 9.
A group of Rohingya advocacy groups has accused security forces of “war crimes”, including the burning of Muslim villages and extra-judicial killings as they combed the region in search of the attackers.
At least 30 suspected militants have been killed in the manhunt that has followed the border raids. The latest official state media accounting of those rounded up for alleged involvement included six suspects arrested on October 19, though a comprehensive state-wide tally has not been disclosed.
“The Burmese government has a responsibility to search for and arrest those who attacked the border posts,” Mr Adams of HRW said last week. “But it is required to do so in a manner that respects human rights, ensures that the area’s people get the aid they need, and allows journalists and rights monitors into the area.”
About 400 schools in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships have been shuttered since October 10. Officials last week said those in areas deemed sufficiently stabilised would reopen this week, though it was not clear how many schools those conditions would apply to.
‘Recent violence in northern Rakhine State has led the army to deny access to aid agencies.’
Brad Adams Human Rights Watch
A member of the Border Guard Police Force inspects an abandoned BGP outpost along the border with Bangladesh in Rakhine State on October 15.