Govt Fears Recent Police Crackdown Will Sow Discord in Rakhine

By Htet Naing Zaw 23 January 2018

NAYPYITAW — Myanmar’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is concerned that the stability of Rakhine State will be undermined by racial hate speech that could possibly sow discord between Arakanese and Bamar people following last week’s police crackdown on Mrauk-U residents in which at least seven residents were killed and 30 more were injured, according to a statement put out by the government.

“In response to this, there was talk of Bamar chauvinism and speeches that could potentially create a divide between Arakanese and Bamar people. We don’t want that to happen. The stability of Rakhine State depends on Arakanese people. We’d like to request people avoid saying anything involving racial prejudice,” said U Zaw Htay, spokesperson of the Myanmar government.

On Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of Mrauk-U residents took to the streets to protest the government’s ban on celebrating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine Dynasty. The government said it had banned the annual event because the venue was a former palace that has been listed as a national heritage site.

The government said on Wednesday that the actions of police during the riot would be investigated to determine whether they adhered to the established rules of engagement. In a statement, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed sympathy for those who were killed and injured.

Police have also detained Dr. Aye Maung, a prominent Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker, and author Wai Hin Aung, who also spoke at the event to mark the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine Dynasty to the Bamar, on Oct. 15 in Rathedaung Township.

The police crackdown has incited Arakanese people to harbor grudges against the government, said U Aung Thaung Shwe, an ANP lawmaker representing Buthidaung Township. The government must release the detainees to ease grudges against Bamar chauvinism.

“Protesters were only demanding equality, not autonomy. They feel like Rakhine State is not free if even a literature talk cannot be held. The government must give them chances so that they don’t feel that way,” said U Aung Thaung Shwe.

He also demanded that the government sends apologies to the families of victims, and an independent investigation committee be formed to probe the case.

Dr. Aye Maung spoke as a politician at the literature talk, said Daw Khin Saw, a central executive committee member of the ANP. He used to openly criticize the government, the Tatmadaw and the peace process, but he was not arrested because he was the ANP chairman at that time. He was only arrested now as he had stepped down as the party chairman, she said.

“People are asking us if we are not responding to the arrest of Dr. Aye Maung. We will take action according to the law when he appears at court on Jan. 31. We will respond as necessary when we know under which charge he is being prosecuted,” said Daw Khin Saw Wai.

The President’s Office said there are 65 policemen in the Mrauk-U district police force and that 60 of them, including the head of the district police force, are Arakanese people.

“We don’t want to see another tragic incident like the Mrauk-U case. Youth who are politically naïve were talked into this. And it was Araknese people who clashed with Arakanese police,” said government spokesman U Zaw Htay.

Dr. Aye Maung is likely to be prosecuted under serious charges, and the President’s Office has granted the Rakhine State government authority for this, according to the President’s Office.