Around 60 Get Prison for Breaking Arakan Curfews

By Lawi Weng 23 August 2012

Courts in northern Arakan State have sentenced around 60 ethnic Arakanese to six months in prison for violating curfews imposed following the outbreak of communal riots in June.

The curfews, initially declared in six townships after the worst clashes between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in decades erupted on June 8, were later extended to three other townships earlier this month in the wake of another outbreak of violence.

Around 800 people, including four members of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), have been arrested for violating the dusk-to-dawn curfews, but only a handful have faced charges, according to local sources.

“Among those who were detained, most were released, while some have been held for the past two months pending a court decision,” said RNDP central committee member San Hla Kyaw.

There have also been reports that around 10 Rohingyas have been sentenced to prison, some on charges of inciting violence, which carries sentences of up to 10 years.

Late last week, the Burmese authorities released an undisclosed number of UN staffers and aid workers who were accused of taking part in the riots. Although the UN declined to say how many had been freed, its top official in Rangoon, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Burma Ashok Nigam, on Sunday indicated in a public speech that others remain behind bars.

Meanwhile, RNDP members sitting in Burma’s Parliament lodged a complaint today against a report circulated by the President’s Office last Friday that contained accusations against Arakanese politicians, Buddhists monks and local business people.

The report, which was distributed in Parliament and has not been made public, was said to include claims that ethnic Arakanese leaders played a role in stoking clashes between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in northern Arakan State. Among other things, it contained claims that Arakanese businessmen had used the violence as a pretext to seize businesses run by Rohingyas.

The RNDP lawmakers said they did not want the report to be added to the record of Burma’s Union Parliament because it would tarnish the reputation of the Arakanese people.

The report, which was circulated on the same day that President Thein Sein formed a commission to investigate the cause of the violence in Arakan State, appears to have been a collection of allegations that the commission will examine in due course.

The investigation commission, which includes both Buddhist and Muslim leaders and several leading dissidents, was a response to a growing international outcry over the government’s handling of the communal conflict in Arakan State, which many, particularly in the Muslim world, have characterized as ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.

On Tuesday, Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release reiterating the government’s position that the violence was not directed at Muslims. It also blamed “false and fabricated news reporting of some foreign news agencies and organizations” for distorting what it described as “a conflict between two communities within a State of Myanmar following a criminal act.”