Arakanese in U.S. Protest Myanmar Army Killings of Civilians in Rakhine

By Moe Myint 14 May 2019

YANGON—Nearly 100 Arakanese living in the U.S. demonstrated outside the Myanmar Embassy in Washington on Monday to protest against alleged extrajudicial killings of Arakanese civilians by the country’s military during its ongoing conflict with the Arakan Army (AA) in northern Rakhine State.

The rally was organized by the Arakan American Community (AAC) and was joined by Kachin and Shan protesters. A Buddhist monk performed a funeral service for nine local residents recently killed while being detained by Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) troops in Mrauk-U and in Rathedaung Township.

The participants held banners with English-language slogans including “Stop killing civilians”, “Stop selling weapons to Burma” and “Justice for Arakan.” One of the event’s organizers, AAC vice chair Ko Thein Tun Zan, told The Irrawaddy via social media that civilians were constantly targeted in Rakhine, adding that the Army consistently broadcast fabricated information to the public and the international community.

The AAC released a statement making the following five demands: an immediate halt to the targeting of civilians; the release of all detainees; the establishment of an independent inquiry excluding military generals; accountability for those who have committed war crimes and rights abuses; and access to humanitarian organizations in northern Rakhine.

With regard to the blocking of aid shipments to northern Rakhine, Myanmar Ambassador to the U.S. U Aung Lin was quoted by Voice of America as saying that although he had little information about Rakhine, he believed his government had a better understanding of the reality on the ground than others. Thus, any blocking of aid would be based on the safety situation facing civil society groups, he said.

The AAC urged the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the deaths of three detainees among 27 from Mrauk-U Township’s Let Kar village as well as the killing of six villagers among 275 detainees from Ratheadung Township’s Kyauk Tan during interrogation. The Army freed all remaining villagers from the latter group on Tuesday, according to Tatmadaw spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun.

The AAC said the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Rakhine amounted to war crimes.

The military recently formed a commission comprising generals to investigate the shootings in Kyauk Tan village, which killed at least six and injured a dozen villagers in early May 2019. However, the AAC’s Ko Thein Tun Zan said he believed the panel would merely whitewash the events in order to protect military personnel, rather than deliver justice for the Arakanese public.

Ko Thein Tun Zan said, “We would like to urge the UN to keep monitoring the atrocities committed by Burmese army troops in northern Rakhine and take action on them as soon as possible, before the Myanmar Army can conduct a heinous scorched-earth campaign against the Arakanese community, as it has committed against other minorities in the past.”

Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that because some of the fighting had occurred near villages, there were some civilian deaths, though it was difficult to say who caused them.

“What we can say is that we have followed the rules of engagement and never targeted civilians,” he said.

On the commission investigating the events at Kyauk Tan village, the brigadier general said the release of the remaining villagers was made possible by the commission’s investigation.

“It was formed not to make a whitewash but to learn the truth and whether our troops followed all the procedures they had to follow,” he added.

Amid intensifying armed clashes between the Myanmar Army and AA rebels in northern Rakhine, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Muller has been in Myanmar since last Thursday. She traveled to Kachin and Shan states as well as Rakhine over the weekend.

Although she requested permission from local authorities to make a trip to a camp for newly displaced Arakanese in northern Rakhine, for safety reasons she was only allowed to visit Rohingya camps on the outskirts of the state capital, Sittwe. The Rohingya in these camps were driven from their homes by sectarian violence in 2012. Since the violence, Sittwe has become a city divided, with its Buddhist Arakanese and Rohingya Muslim communities increasingly segregated.

Muller wrote on her Twitter account: “I am deeply concerned about the new fighting in Rakhine and Chin State that has displaced over 30,000 people in the past 6 months. Civilians desperately need protection and assistance.”

On Tuesday afternoon, fighting erupted in several rural locations near popular tourist destinations in the ancient city of Mrauk-U.

You may also like these stories:

With Camps Slated for Closure, IDPs Fear for Safety in Home Villages

AA Warns Private Bus Companies Not to Transport Gov’t Troops

Protected by China, Wa Is Now a de Facto Independent State

Court Hears from Kachin Protesters Accused of Defaming Military