Govt Launches Fresh Arakan Strife Probe

By Lawi Weng 31 October 2012

The Burmese government has launched an investigation into the causes of the latest violence in Arakan State which erupted last week, according to a Naypyidaw insider.

Zaw Htay, the director of the President’s Office, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that there were organizations both inside and outside the country which were apparently trying to instigate clashes. “We will announce the results officially after we get all detailed information about who was behind it,” he said.

Sources in Arakan State suggest that the latest violence was sparked by a domestic dispute between a Muslim man and his wife in Minbya Township. The husband allegedly shot a homemade catapult at a Buddhist neighbor who came to investigate the commotion. Subsequently, a group of ethnic Arakanese began burning the houses of nearby Muslims.

The head of the Muslim community in Minbya denied that they instigated the unrest and told The Irrawaddy that some people were already planning for violence and the family was merely a scapegoat.

The government has reported that 28,000 people have been made homeless during the recent violence, which started on Oct.21, while a total of 2,950 houses, 14 religious buildings and eight rice mills were razed to the ground. Eighty-eight people have been confirmed dead while 129 have been hospitalized as carnage raged across nine townships, according to official figures.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that there could be even more displaced people as the numbers of those who fled could not be verified.

Vivian Tan, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Bangkok, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that, “We believe that there could be more people displaced because some fled to the hills. But we do not know how many. Around 6,000 people got on fishing boats. They are trying to find a safe place to land so they can get some help.”

The UNHCR is asking the Burmese government for better access to displaced communities hiding in remote areas, she added.

“The first greatest need on the ground is for a return to law and order so peace and security can be restored and so we can have access to the region where there are affected people,” said Vivian Tan.

The UNHCR reported that the situation at camps in Sittwe remains desperate as they were already crowded with victims of the June violence before the current crisis unfolded.

Aid groups say there are around 70,000 people at the camps and these are now getting overwhelmed as even more people arrive. Food and water rations are getting low and there are not enough medical supplies to treat the wounded.

Kaung San, the director of the Wan Lark Foundation local humanitarian organization, said that there is not enough food or shelter and many people have had to stay away. “The camps on the Muslim side could more be even more crowded than the Arakanese ones as there are newly displaced people arriving there,” he added.

The Burmese government, World Food Program and UNHCR have been cooperating to build settlements for the displaced. Temporary camps have been set up for the latest victims at affected townships including Minbya, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Kyaukphyu, Kyauktaw and Rathedaung.

Meanwhile, Surin Pitsuwan, general-secretary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the Arakan conflict could even threaten regional stability.

Asean has offered humanitarian aid to victims in western Burma and Surin Pitsuwan said on Tuesday that the UN and other global organizations should also help to solve the crisis. However, the Burmese government has refused assistance from Asean nations and instead insists that the situation is a domestic matter.

Thein Sein formed an investigation commission to uncover the root cause of the June conflict in August. The commission sent a report to the President’s Office in September after conducting interviews with members of both the Arakanese and Rohingya communities.