Thursday, August 17, 2017

New taskforce to be formed to investigate Rakhine violence

A national-level committee will be formed to investigate conditions in northern Rakhine State after an upsurge in violence following October 9 attacks on Border Guard posts, a government spokesperson has announced.

Amid mounting pressure from international observers and diplomats to investigate the situation on the ground and alleged rights abuses, the state counsellor headed, 27-member Committee for the Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State decided that a taskforce should be formed.

After an on-the-ground fact finding trip, the investigation team will file an observation report, the State Counsellor’s Office Information Committee said after a meeting on November 18.

“We will reveal the details about the team when we launch it. For now, we can say that there is a process under way to form the team,” U Zaw Htay, a member of the State Counsellor’s Office Information Committee, told The Myanmar Times.

Since several border guard officers were killed in a pre-dawn attack in northern Rakhine on October 9, the Tatmadaw has designated parts of the state “military operation zones” and has launched sweeps to track down suspects.

According to U Zaw Htay, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has given instructions that the attacks in Rakhine State must be responded to carefully, within the the rule of law, and must not involve any human rights violations.

According to the Tatmadaw’s True News and Information Team, 234 suspected attackers were arrested from November 9 to 14, and 69 suspected attackers were killed. The State Counsellor’s Officer Information Committee has said nearly 200 additional suspected attackers were arrested from November 14 to 23.

“We have kept exhaustive records of the interrogation of suspected attackers. So the team can observe themselves whether there have been any human rights violations,” said U Zaw Htay.

Officer Kyi Soe from the Border Guard Police Department in Maungdaw township said that the suspects are being detained at Buthidaung Prison and in the Maungdaw police station. The interrogations have been carried out by the Criminal Investigation Department, military intelligence officials and a special police team.

Since the resurgence of violence in northern Rakhine State, up to 30,000 people have been displaced, according to the UN, half of them over a two-day period when dozens died after the military brought in helicopter gunships over the weekend of November 12.

In the wake of the violence, many Muslim residents who self-identify as Rohingya have poured into neighbouring Bangladesh. “Despite our border guards’ sincere effort to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens including women, children and elderly people continue to cross the border in to Bangladesh. Thousands more have been reported to be gathering at the border crossing,” senior Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry official Kamrul Ahsan was quoted as saying in a Reuters report yesterday.

Humanitarian aid, including food rations, has been suspended to more than 150,000 people in the area for more than 40 days. International human rights organisations have accused troops of killing civilians, raping women and torching homes – allegations the government has vehemently denied. Authorities have heavily restricted access to the military operation zones, making it difficult to independently verify accusations of abuse.

On November 15, former UN secretary general and chair of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission Kofi Annan issued a statement urging all communities to renounce violence. He expressed “deep concern” over the new displacements and urged security forced to act in full compliance with the rule of law.

“Recent events have reinforced the urgency of tackling these challenges in order to find viable solutions in the interest of all the people of the State,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner said. “Violence will not create an environment conducive to peace and inter-communal cohesion, which is a prerequisite for economic progress and prosperity.”