Where­abouts of Mus­lims flee­ing Rakhine vi­o­lence said to be un­known

The Myanmar Times - - News - NYAN LYNN AUNG nyan­lin­aung@mm­times.com – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Yee Ywal Myint, trans­la­tion by Khine Thazin Han

TWO weeks af­ter a series of deadly at­tacks on bor­der guard posts in north­ern Rakhine State left the re­gion reel­ing, au­thor­i­ties say the where­abouts of Mus­lim res­i­dents who fled fol­low­ing the as­sault re­main un­known.

Ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies’ best guesses, some 10,000 Mus­lim Ro­hingya res­i­dents in the ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim north­ern town­ship re­main dis­placed, with­out ac­cess to aid.

The state gov­ern­ment says about 3000 Rakhine Bud­dhists are stay­ing in dis­place­ment camps. But of­fi­cials say the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion is not un­ac­counted for in the af­ter­math of the Oc­to­ber 9 bor­der as­sault, which saw nine po­lice of­fi­cers killed.

Po­lice Ma­jor Soe Naing Aung told The Myan­mar Times that miss­ing Mus­lim vil­lagers may have fled by wa­ter routes, or taken up hid­ing among north­ern Maung­daw’s rugged ter­rain.

“We still could not track into the deep knolls be­cause it is dif­fi­cult to reach there. There­fore, we don’t know any in­for­ma­tion on where they fled,” he said.

U Ye Htut, an of­fi­cial with the Maung­daw dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tive depart­ment, said Mus­lim fam­i­lies may also have fled in fear of their safety, de­spite be­ing told they were free to re­main in their homes, so long as they were not in­volved in the as­saults.

“We an­nounced that they can stay nor­mally in the vil­lage if they did not com­mit the at­tack and co­op­er­ate with se­cu­rity forces while the forces are ask­ing ques­tions,” he said.

“How­ever, no­body [stayed] – I think be­cause they have anx­i­ety as well,” he told The Myan­mar Times.

Since the at­tacks, se­cu­rity per­son­nel have deemed Maung­daw and Buthi­daung town­ships “op­er­a­tion zones” where they are con­duct­ing what they al­lege are tar­geted sweeps. How­ever, over the week­end, Reuters re­ported that res­i­dents in Maung­daw ac­cuse se­cu­rity forces of killing non­com­bat­ants and burn­ing homes.

U Kyaw Min, chair of the Democ­racy and Hu­man Rights Party, told The Myan­mar Times that the party asked for Mus­lim res­i­dents’ full co­op­er­a­tion with au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing an­swer­ing any ques­tions.

“There may be var­i­ous [rea­sons] that Mus­lim res­i­dents fled, be­cause the at­tacks are com­pli­cated and hard to ex­plain. How­ever, I be­lieve that in­no­cent Mus­lim res­i­dents had no plan to flee and they may have fled due to anx­i­ety,” said U Kyaw Min, whose party courts a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim base.

Part of that anx­i­ety may stem from the fact that the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice, five days af­ter the in­ci­dent, an­nounced that the at­tacks were “in­tended to pro­mote ex­trem­ist vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy among the ma­jor­ity Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion in the area”, in­ject­ing a clear re­li­gious com­po­nent into the on­go­ing man­hunt for the per­pe­tra­tors.

In an in­ter­view last week with The Wash­ing­ton Post, State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said video of the al­leged at­tack­ers showed “clearly” that they had ji­hadist in­ten­tions.

“We are of course de­ter­mined to con­tain the sit­u­a­tion and to make sure that we re­store peace and har­mony as soon as pos­si­ble,” she said.

U Ye Htut, the Maung­daw ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cial, said a level of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween some lo­cal Mus­lim res­i­dents and the at­tack­ers was likely.

“The at­tacks did not oc­cur with­out as­sis­tance from some res­i­dents be­cause the at­tack was long-planned and we did not re­ceive any in­for­ma­tion in ad­vance. There­fore we could spec­u­late that some res­i­dents may have been in­volved in the at­tack,” he said.

A se­nior Maung­daw town­ship po­lice of­fi­cial said a sus­pected fi­nancier of the as­sailants was ar­rested at his home in Maung­daw town on Oc­to­ber 23, with law en­force­ment act­ing on in­for­ma­tion ob­tained dur­ing the in­ter­ro­ga­tion of de­tainees.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine State “fairly” and in ac­cor­dance with the rule of law, but a group of 16 Ro­hingya ad­vo­cacy groups re­leased a state­ment on Oc­to­ber 16 that al­leged au­thor­i­ties’ se­cu­rity crack­down has been rife with hu­man rights abuses.

“Since 9 Oc­to­ber, un­der the pre­text of look­ing for at­tack­ers, the Myan­mar mil­i­tary and po­lice forces have been in­dis­crim­i­nately killing the Ro­hingya, torch­ing and plun­der­ing their homes and vil­lages,” read a joint state­ment from the groups. “Two mass graves were found and about 100 Ro­hingya civil­ians were ex­tra-ju­di­cially killed that in­cluded old men, women and chil­dren.”

The state­ment did not at­tribute its al­le­ga­tions to a spe­cific source.

State me­dia has re­ported a much lower death toll, and de­scribed those slain as “vi­o­lent at­tack­ers” killed by se­cu­rity forces in self-de­fence.

Ac­cord­ing to the Maung­daw dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tive depart­ment, there are more than 150 Mus­lim vil­lages in the north­ern part of Maung­daw, where two of the at­tacks oc­curred, with a Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion of nearly 200,000. Ri­ot­ing be­tween that largely state­less group and Rakhine Bud­dhists in 2012 killed more than 100 peo­ple and dis­placed some 140,000, the vast ma­jor­ity of whom are Ro­hingya who re­main in tem­po­rary camps four years later.

Most Mus­lims were re­luc­tant to speak to re­porters from The Myan­mar Times dur­ing a re­cent trip to Maung­daw. Sev­eral said they had heard about the Oc­to­ber 9 at­tacks, but knew lit­tle more about the sit­u­a­tion.

The lat­est of­fi­cial state me­dia ac­count­ing of those rounded up for al­leged in­volve­ment in­cluded four sus­pected at­tack­ers and the al­leged fi­nancier ar­rested on Oc­to­ber 23, though a com­pre­hen­sive tally has not been dis­closed.

Photo: Kaung Htet

The re­mains of a burned-down house smoul­der in War Pate vil­lage, Maung­daw town­ship, on Oc­to­ber 14, near the out­post where sev­eral bor­der guards were killed by un­known as­sailants in an early-morn­ing raid on Oc­to­ber 9.

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