Calls for Transparency After Reports of Violence in Arakan State

By Lawi Weng 20 January 2014

RANGOON — As the Burma government insists there is no truth to reports that Rohingya Muslims were killed in the village of Du Char Yar Tan last week, calls are growing for a full investigation into what took place in the village in northern in Arakan State.

Reports have emerged of a violent crackdown on the night of Jan. 13 in the village in Maungdaw Township after a policeman went missing in the Rohingya-majority area.

The Thailand-based NGO the Arakan Project said it had received multiple reports that possibly dozens of Rohingya were killed by security forces and Arakanese Buddhists. Official media and the Ministry of Information have strongly refuted the reports.

International organizations are calling for clarity as independent observers have not been able to visit Du Char Yar Tan village to confirm either the allegations or the government line. A high security presence is reportedly still in place in the area.

Shwe Maung, a Muslim member of Parliament for Buthidaung Township in Arakan State, who is currently in Naypyidaw, criticized local authorities for issuing a blanket denial of the reports, and called for the government to be more transparent in dealing with the incident.

He said Rohingya villagers had still not been allowed back into the village to confirm whether missing loved ones are dead or alive.

“They should let the people get back to inside the village. Now some people believe that their people were killed as they can’t get inside the village,” Shwe Maung said.

He said he had been sent photos of the bodies of people purportedly killed last week, and was trying to confirm their veracity. “I just got five photos of dead people,” he said. “When I get full confirmation, I will raise it to Parliament.”

He said the entire population of the village, nearly 4,000 people, had fled their homes, although he could not confirm how many people had been killed.

Abu Tahay, a Muslim leader from the Union National Development Party, said he had a list of 24 names of people killed. He also called for the authorities to thoroughly investigate and present their findings in a transparent way.

The state-owned New Light of Myanmar on Saturday quoted local police denying the incident, which was reported Friday by the Associated Press (AP) and The Irrawaddy.

“AP, Irrawaddy falsely reports violence occurred in Rakhine State,” the newspaper’s headline read, saying the media outlets were “instigat[ing] unrest” by reporting claims of deaths in Du Char Yar Tan village.

According to information published on the Facebook page of the Burmese military-owned Myawaddy newspaper, the Ministry of Information has spoken to AP reporters about their coverage last week. Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Rangoon embassies of the United States and Britain issued a joint statement Friday calling for a full investigation into events at Du Char Yar Tan village.

The US Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Virginia E. Murray, said Saturday that the embassy was trying to visit Du Char Yar Tan to verify the conflicting claims.

“It is clear there is conflict there. We issued our embassy statement already to visit there,” said Murray, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on the sidelines of an Interfaith Religion Dialogue event in Rangoon.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, also in a statement Friday urged a full investigation.

“I urge the Government to clarify what has happened. Quick and transparent action can help to prevent further violence,” Quintana said. “If deaths and injuries have occurred, the Myanmar Government must, under international law, conduct a prompt, effective and impartial investigation and hold the perpetrators of any human rights violations to account.”

The human rights expert said he had received reports of Rohingya Muslims being killed and injured as well as a security official being killed.

A number of arrests were reportedly made during the security forces’ operation in Maungdaw, and nine people remain detained, according to local sources.

“Myanmar authorities must respect the due process rights of anyone arrested and detained, which includes access to legal counsel, and address the specific risks faced by women and children in detention,” Quintana said.

“Given the previous concerns I have raised about torture and ill-treatment of persons in detention in Maungdaw, I urge the authorities to provide access to independent monitoring groups to assess the treatment of those being detained.”