RANGOON — A fire on Tuesday night destroyed 16 homes in Du Chee Yar Tan village, the site of the alleged killing of dozens of Rohingyas two weeks ago. An Arakan State government official claimed that the Muslim villagers could have started the fire and “burned their own homes.”
The fire broke out in the western part of Du Chee Yar Tan Village Tract in southern Maungdaw Township in Arakan State and destroyed 16 homes, some of which were deserted, according to Aung Zaw Min, a state legislative MP with the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Aung Zaw Min, who represents Maungdaw Township, said he inspected the site of the fire on Wednesday morning together with state officials. He said he spoke with some of the affected villagers, who claimed that they saw a group of people set fire to several houses at around 9 pm.
“They told us that they did not know who are in this group but … they came to burn their houses. The group numbers about 10 people,” Aung Zaw Min said. No one was injured or killed in the blaze and state authorities had provided rice and cooking pots for the victims.
Photos of the fire posted on the Information Ministry’s Facebook page showed bamboo and thatched-roofed houses being destroyed, while a fire truck was deployed to put down the blaze.
Another part of the village tract of Du Chee Yar Tan, which is home to several thousand Rohingyas, was the site of an alleged massacre two weeks ago.
According to a human rights group and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, at least 48 Rohingyas were killed by police and Arakan Buddhist mob on Jan. 9-13. Most of the victims reportedly died in an apparent retaliation for the disappearance of a police officer, who was supposedly attacked by Muslim villagers.
The central government and state authorities have vehemently denied reports of the killings and insist that only the policeman has gone missing.
Burmese officials subsequently lashed out at reports and statements by international aid agencies, media organizations and even the US and UK governments, saying that the incident was “an internal matter.” On Tuesday, they rejected US calls for the involvement of international officials in an investigation into the incident.
In an interview with state-run MRTV on Tuesday night, Arakan State spokesperson Win Myaing confirmed that 16 homes had been destroyed by a blaze in Du Chee Yar Tan village. He referred to local Muslim villagers as ‘Bengalis’ and said they might be responsible for starting the fire.
“While we were trying to stop the fire spreading from one house to another house… we found five Bengalis. They did not help stop the fire, but just ran away,” he said. “They could be the people who started the fire. It seems to us that they burned their own houses.”
Win Myaing added that Arakanese Buddhist villagers could not be responsible for starting the fire because “the nearest Rakhine village is too far away.”
Aung Zaw Min, the local MP, doubted that local villagers had caused the fire. “It seems unlikely that they would burn down their own houses because they are very poor. They don’t even have enough food to eat,” he said.
Since mid-2012, Arakan State in western Burma has been torn apart by recurrent outbursts of inter-communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhists that have killed almost 200 people, destroyed thousands of homes and displaced 142,000 people, mostly Muslims.
Burma’s government does not recognize the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority as citizens and officials refer to them as “Bengalis” to suggest that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.