Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Death toll rises, more arrests made in troubled northern Rakhine State

The weekend was marked by more violence and arrests in northern Rakhine State as a young teacher was shot and an attack on security personnel ended in the deaths of three assailants. The latest bloodshed comes in the aftermath of what the government is calling a coordinated, deadly assault by Islamist insurgents on three Myanmar Border Police posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships on October 9.

Tatmadaw soldiers take positions on a truck outside of Maungdaw town yesterday in Rakhine State. Photo: Kaung Htet / The Myanmar TimesTatmadaw soldiers take positions on a truck outside of Maungdaw town yesterday in Rakhine State. Photo: Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times

Ko Thein Tun, 23, was shot on October 15 while collecting bamboo near Myo village, about 8.5 kilometres (5.3 miles) from Maungdaw town. The man was admitted to Maungdaw Hospital, where he was due for same-day surgery to remove the bullet.

Ko Bar Yar, the victim’s brother, said Ko Thein Tun had been a teacher in Maungdaw township for over a year.

“We informed the police checkpoint at Kan Thar Yar [village, of the shooting], and police brought him to hospital. He is still in an alarming condition,” he told The Myanmar Times.

“There are no military troops operating in the village as well as the village being a little far from Muslim villages. Therefore we could not confirm yet who did it,” said a senior police official who asked for anonymity.

Ma La Won, a Myo village resident, said more than a dozen people had fled to neighbouring Kan Thar Yar village following the shooting.

“We were afraid to stay at home. Therefore we fled to a place where we thought would be safer,” she told The Myanmar Times.

Meanwhile, the military-run news outlet Myawady reported that three police officers were attacked by a trio of knife-wielding assailants the same day in Late Aing village. The attackers – two women and one man – were shot dead as they fled the scene, Myawady reported.

The violence came just one day after the President’s Office announced that the October 9 attacks were perpetrated by a little-known Islamist group by the name of Aqa Mul Mujahidin.

According to a statement from the President’s Office, “the attacks in Maungdaw township were systematically planned in advance over a long period of time, assisted by foreign funding and the support of members of foreign terrorist organisations”.

Nearly 400 militants could owe allegiance to the group, said the statement.

It identified the group’s leader as Havistoohar, saying he had previously trained with the Taliban in Pakistan.

Several Muslim residents of Maungdaw township told The Myanmar Times that they had heard of the October 9 attacks, but knew little more about the situation.

“Of course I heard about the attack but that’s all I’ve heard. Nothing more,” said Athi Marnu, who lives in Maungdaw town. “I know one thing: that the attack occurred and the clinic has closed. Therefore my granddaughter could not see the doctor from the clinic.”

But most Muslims The Myanmar Times spoke to, both those living in the town and others who had fled there from surrounding villages, were hesitant to discuss the recent upheaval with members of the media.

During a visit to Kyikan Pyin village – site of the first attack – and surrounding settlements on October 14, many homes appeared to have been abandoned.

“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,” said U Ye Htut, an official with the Maungdaw district administrative department.

“However, nobody did it. I think because they have anxiety as well,” he told The Myanmar Times.

With the weekend killings, at least 33 people – based on a tally of state media reports – have been killed as security forces comb northern Rakhine State in an effort to root out the militants. State media yesterday did not offer the latest casualty figures.

The October 9 attacks killed nine police officers, as well as eight of the assailants. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has vowed to uphold the rule of law as Rakhine State has become increasingly militarised over the last week. Human rights groups, however, have urged that security operations be conducted with restraint amid reports of extrajudicial killings.

Myawady reported that four more people were arrested in Redar village, Maungdaw township, on October 15, apparently due to suspected links to Aqa Mul Mujahidin.

The leaders of political parties with ties to Islam roundly condemned last week’s attacks, but said they were not familiar with the organisation being blamed.

“We cannot accept any terrorist who destroys the stability of the state. But I was surprised when I heard of the Aqa Mul Mujahidin organisation,” said U Maung Maung Ni, a National Development and Democratic Party member.

“I heard RSO was there [in the Bangladesh border region] several years ago, but no one could confirm yet whether the group is really active or not,” he said, referring to the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, an armed group thought to be defunct but which the government says is linked to Aqa Mul Mujahidin.

U Kyaw Min, chair of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, expressed similar scepticism but added that he was not in a position to make assertions about the situation on the ground in Rakhine State.

“We still are observing how the government tackles the issue. The most important thing we are concerned with now is the security of local residents in those areas,” said U Kyaw Min.

The government has sought to tightly control the flow of information coming out of Rakhine State, fearing that the spread of unchecked rumours could lead to the kind of inter-religious violence that wracked the state in 2012.

A majority of Maungdaw township’s population are self-identifying Rohingya Muslims. 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.

A press conference is scheduled for today by a Union government delegation that has recently returned from Rakhine State and was led by Information Minister U Pe Myint.

Additional reporting by Ei Ei Toe Lwin