Govt-backed Inquiry into Arakan Violence Underway

By Lawi Weng & Khin Oo Tha 11 September 2012

A committee formed by Burma’s government last month to probe the causes of communal clashes between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims is about half-way through a visit to Arakan State, where it is gathering information about the deadly outbreak of violence that began in early June.

The eight-day visit, which began on Sept. 7, has so far included meetings with leaders of both communities, as well as refugees displaced by riots that killed dozens of people and left tens of thousands homeless.

The commission traveled to the predominantly Rohingya townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung on Tuesday for talks with Muslim religious leaders and Buddhists monks, according to Maung Wuntha, a well-known Burmese writer and one of the commission’s 27 members.

“We are not here to dig up the past. We are mainly focusing on finding out how people feel and listening to what they want. We are trying to find some way to restore their sense of security. We also want to come up with recommendations that we can make to the government,” he told The Irrawaddy.

To ensure that interviewees speak freely, the commission has guaranteed their privacy, not even permitting officials to sit in on the interviews, he added.

Both sides have spoken very openly, he said, and some have even provided letter and photos.

The visit is the commission’s first to Arakan State since it was formed in the second week of August by President Thein Sein. After it completes its trip on Sept. 15, a research team will come to the state to collect more information.

In addition to Maungdaw and Buthidaung, the commission has so far also visited Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U townships, and plans to speak to affected people in Sittwe, Kyaukpyu, Ramree, Kyauknimaw and Taunggok townships.

The commission, led by the former director of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Dr Myo Myint, will have to report directly to Thein Sein within three months. However, this deadline could be extended if necessary, said commission member Aye Thar Aung, who is also the secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy.

Also on the commission are religious leaders representing Burma’s Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu communities, as well as leading pro-democracy activists such as 88 Generation leader Ko Ko Gyi and comedian Zarganar.

The president formed the commission after international right groups and foreign governments, especially in the Muslim world, harshly criticized the government for its handling of the violence, accusing security forces of targeting Rohingyas.

A US delegation led by Ambassador Derek Mitchell concluded a two-day fact-finding mission to the strife-torn state on Monday. In a statement, the US embassy in Rangoon said, “Broad swathes of both communities have been affected, and the humanitarian situation remains of great concern.”

The statement stressed the need for a long-term solution to ethnic strife in the area, listing as key challenges security and stability, freedom of movement, protection for local residents and humanitarian access.