RANGOON — The Burmese government alleged on Thursday that people involved in a series of deadly border police outpost attacks in northern Arakan State earlier last month were forced to undergo terrorist training.
According to a statement released by the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee, four detainees suspected of involvement in the attacks and arrested during government army clearance operations said during an interrogation that they were recruited under intimidation and the threat of execution to join the training by foreign Muslim extremists.
“They said they would shoot me or cut my throat and kill me if I did not do their course. Twenty people from our village had to attend the course, which was conducted at the back of the Mayin Mountain,” said the release, quoting Jarbuman, a suspect who was detained from Pwintphyuchaung village on Nov. 12.
The statement added that the Rohingya had set fire to their own villages, a theory viewed skeptically by most outside observers.
The release quoted another detainee, Mammud Iserlan, stating that the Muslim cleric at the local mosque told villagers that people from Bangladesh would come soon and urged the villagers to cooperate with them to attack the government troops, which would never recognize them as Rohingya.
The some 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are a persecuted minority in Burma. Many view them as interlopers from Bangladesh despite having lived in the country for generations.
“He also said that one person from each household had to join in the attacks. Otherwise, all family members would have their throats slashed,” the government release stated.
The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm any of the information provided in the release.
Shobir Ahmed, a Maungdaw resident, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the government statement was a fabrication and he had not heard about the forced recruitment of any of the locals.
“Some people joined the training of their own volition,” he said, adding that it was the army who set fire to the villages.
Since the border guard post attacks on Oct. 9, the government has been accused of arson and extrajudicial killings in the area. The government denies these allegations.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch said the government’s Thursday statement should be treated as spurious as security forces are prohibiting any access to the media or independent investigators.
“There is no doubt the conflict between armed militants and government forces has escalated and that police and army personnel face grave danger, but claiming terrorist training of civilians threatens to turn every person into a target, which could have disastrous results, increased casualties, and sadly, increased resistance by local inhabitants,” David Mathieson, the senior researcher on Burma in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told The Irrawaddy.
As of Thursday, 302 suspects have been arrested and 69 were killed during the clashes between militants and government security forces. The government has lost 17 security forces, according to President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay.
Additional reporting by Lawi Weng