RANGOON — Some 120 residents of northern Arakan State have so far applied to be recruited into a new unit of the border guard police being raised in response to attacks by alleged Islamist militants in Maungdaw Township, deputy commander of Arakan State police Col. Tint San told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
Places are reserved for communities the government considers indigenous to Arakan State, including the Khami, Daingnet, Mro, Thet, Miram and Maramagyi, as well as the Arakanese. Recruits will undergo six months of training, beginning next month—after medical examinations—and will receive the same pay and rations as ordinary police.
Contrary to conventional police detachments, whose members are often serving far from their hometowns and villages, this new unit under the border guard police will be recruited, trained, paid and deployed locally.
Col. Tint San explained, “Some youths are not willing to serve in other regions [outside Arakan State] because of the [Burmese] language barrier. Deploying them in their native area is also good for operations: they can communicate easily with their people and are more familiar with the roads than other police.”
To examine existing security arrangements in northern Arakan State, with an eye to significant upgrades, Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, Border Affairs Minister Col. Htein Lin, and newly promoted Border Guard Police commander Thura San Lwin visited several villages in Maungdaw Township along the Bangladesh border, where [non-Muslim] villagers were encouraged to join the new border guard police unit, in order to defend against future militant attacks, according to the state government newspaper.
The attack on three border guard police posts by alleged Islamist militants on Oct. 9, and the ensuing hunt by the army and border police for the perpetrators and looted firearms, prompted requests from local Buddhist Arakanese to be armed and trained as a militia. However, Burma’s Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Myint Nwe dismissed this prospect at a press conference in Naypyidaw on Oct. 17, instead encouraging locals to join the police force.
Over 90 percent of the population of Maungdaw District in northern Arakan State, where the new local police recruits are to be deployed, is estimated to be Muslim, with most identifying as Rohingya (although the government insists on labeling them “Bengali” to imply they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh).
Police Col. Tint San, who was keen to stress the similarity of the new force with conventional police units—warding off claims that it constituted a “militia”—said that recruits must be aged between 18 and 35, and would be trained in the state capital Sittwe and in Maungdaw Township.
U Hla Tun Kyaw, the Lower House lawmaker for Maungdaw Township, who belongs to the Thet ethnic minority, said to The Irrawaddy over the phone on Monday that “many villagers” were interested in undergoing police training. He recalled the new Border Guard Police chief Thura San Lwin telling locals in Maungdaw Township that they would need to have graduated from primary school to be eligible.
After blame was placed on outdated and poorly maintained firearms for the nine police deaths on Oct. 9, Col. Tint San told The Irrawaddy that police detachments in Arakan State would gradually be issued with more advanced weaponry.
A Hindu resident of Maungdaw, Nirmal, told The Irrawaddy that although the situation was stable in the town, the markets were still depleted, there was little traffic on the roads, and trust between Muslims and Buddhists had hit an all-time low, with reports and rumors of killings and village burnings circulating widely.
There have been numerous allegations from human rights organizations of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape being committed against Rohingya civilians during joint police and army operations in northern Arakan State, which the government has flatly denied. Given continued restrictions to media access within Maungdaw Township, these allegations have been impossible to verify.
Nirmal said that security remained tight, with all residents required to present citizenship documentation to border guard police when travelling between villages in the township.
Nirmal claimed that some young local Hindu men were interested in being trained for the new police unit, but he was unsure that the police would “accept us Hindus.”