Thursday, October 27, 2016
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Rakhine investigation team discusses first visit

Maung Wuntha, a member of the Rakhine Investigation Commission, speaks at a press conference on September 17. Ko Taik / The Myanmar TimesMaung Wuntha, a member of the Rakhine Investigation Commission, speaks at a press conference on September 17. Ko Taik / The Myanmar Times

The head of the Rakhine Investigation Commission last week pledged his team would find a solution to the conflict in Rakhine State that is acceptable to the international community.

Dr Myo Myint, chairman of the commission and a former director general of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, made the guarantee at a press conference at Yangon’s Chatrium Hotel on September 17.

The press conference was held to discuss the team’s recent visit to Rakhine State, from September 7 to 14.

“We conducted our investigations in a way that was fair for both sides during this trip. We are trying to find out the truth and trying to maintain stability at the same time. We will try to find a solution that is acceptable for the international community and the majority of people in Myanmar,” Dr Myo Myint said.

During the eight-day trip, the team met displaced people from both the Rakhine and Rohingya communities, as well as residents and government officials.

“We visited all places and refugee camps. We asked questions to those who witnessed some incidents and also met residents from both sides, listened to their feelings, expectations and suggestions on the conflict,” he said.

Commission secretary Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing said the discussions were free and open. “During the interviews, we asked government staff and other officials to stay outside the room so we could discuss the issues freely and openly,” he said.

Writer U Soe Thein, better known as Maung Wuntha, said displaced people from both communities were “anxious” and wanted to have “sustainable peace”.

But commission members denied accusations in foreign media that their investigations had been biased.

“International media said when we arrived in Maungdaw we met only Rakhine people, not Muslims. And two [Muslims] were arrested so they couldn’t meet with us. We totally reject these comments 100 percent,” said U Thura, also known as Zaganar.

“We went everywhere where incidents happened and met people from both sides, whether at the monastery or the mosque,” he said.

They also said the press release issued by the United States embassy in Yangon had “exaggerated” the conditions in Rakhine State.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dispatched a delegation to visit Myanmar and Bangladesh to learn “first hand” about the situation in Rakhine State.

The delegation, led by deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific Joseph Yun and US ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell, visited Rakhine State from September 7 to 10. Following the trip, the embassy released a statement saying that “broad swathes of both communities have been affected, and the humanitarian situation remains of great concern. Going forward it will be important address the urgent needs, while also laying the groundwork for long term, sustainable and just solution.”

Zaganar said the team had visited the same areas as the US delegation but did not agree with its assessment.

“Some residents said they felt sorry because they said [the US delegation] listened only to one side. I don’t know what [the press release said] but we did our duty properly,” he said.

“It’s true, there are issues in the camps for displaced people … it is a challenging situation in terms of health, food and shelter but these issues are not particularly unusual.”

The commission acquired detailed testimonies and documentary evidence about the conflict but members said they didn’t want to comment on their findings.

“It is only a pre-survey visit and we have organised a research team to get more comprehensive evidence to inform our recommendations. It‘s too early to give comments. Please wait for when our report comes out,” Dr Myo Myint said.

The Investigation Commission was formed on August 17 to find the “real cause” of the violence and criminal activities in Rakhine State in May and June and to give suggestions on steps that could help to resolve the animosity between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities.

The commission has to submit its report to the president by November 16 but Dr Myo Myint said it might need more time.

“I can’t say the report will definitely be finished on November 16. We will take more time if we need to. It’s a complicated issue with a lot of history. On the other hand, many people are watching our activities closely so we will try to make our report as complete as possible.”