12 Arrested in Sittwe Over Attacks on Aid Offices

By Lawi Weng 2 April 2014

RANGOON — Police in the Arakan State capital Sittwe said they have arrested 12 suspects in relation to the attacks on the offices of the United Nations and international aid groups last week.

“We arrested 12 of them yesterday, we are interrogating them,” Tun Oo, a police colonel in Sittwe, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, adding that a police investigation into the violence was ongoing and would result in more arrests.

“Based on our interrogation of them, based on their statements, we will arrest more people,” he said, adding, “There are some detainees who have confessed already.” Tun Oo said charges would be brought forth against anyone who “violated the rule of law.”

On March 26 and 27, Arakanese Buddhist mobs in Sittwe went on a rampage and targeted UN and international NGO offices. More than a dozen office buildings were trashed, and mob attacks were carried out aid storage facilities, boat and transport vehicles, as well as some private residence of aid workers.

State media reported that about 130 aid workers, both foreign and Burmese, were forced to seek police protection and flee Sittwe by airplane.

Groups of several hundred people were involved in the riots and police fired more than 120 warning shots in order to restore security, according to state-run media. On March 27, an 11-year-old Arakanese girl was killed by a stray bullet from a police weapon when officers were trying to contain mobs.

Arakanese authorities and President Thein Sein have since announced inquiries into unrest.

The riots erupted on March 26 after an employee of Malteser International took down a Buddhist flag on a building that the aid group was renting. Shortly afterward a rumor swirled through Sittwe alleging that she had handled the religious flag improperly—a claim that Malteser International denies.

Buddhist groups in Arakan have long been angered by international aid support for the Rohingya Muslims, who have been the target of Arakanese mob attacks that have displaced tens of thousands of people. International registration methods used during the current UN-backed national census had also enraged the group as these would allow Rohingya to fill in their own ethnic identity. The Arakanese insist the Muslims are ‘Bengali’ immigrants from Bangladesh.

Following the riots, which have brought crucial aid operations supporting about 140,000 Rohingya to a halt, Burma’s government decided to alter the census registration and ignore any respondent who self-identifies as Rohingya.

The UN, US and EU missions in Burma have condemned the attacks and voiced concern over the changes to the census methodology.