Household Search Operations to Be Carried Out in N Rakhine

By Moe Myint 1 February 2019

YANGON – The Rakhine State government has granted permission to state police and military to carry out a household check operation in seven townships of northern Rakhine State, in an attempt to find members of the Arakan Army (AA) who may be hiding in the villages.

The Irrawaddy has seen an instruction letter written by the Rakhine state government, dated Jan. 25 and signed by the state’s finance and planning minister U Kyaw Aye Thein on behalf of the Rakhine State chief minister, and addressed to the state’s General Administration Department (GAD), the Rakhine State Police Force, the Population and Immigration Department as well as the Fire Services Department.

It stated that the Rakhine State government received reports earlier this month stating that AA members are mingling in villages in the seven listed townships, in northern Rakhine. The Union government has opened a case against the AA under the Counter Terrorism Act for attacking four border outposts in northern Rakhine in which 13 policemen were killed and dozens of firearms and a large quantity of ammunition were seized on Jan. 4.

Following this, several government departments asked for permission to carry out joint “household and population status examination” operations, in which they intend to carry out checks on all household registration documents and to photograph all family members on the list, as well as searching suspicious homes in the townships of Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Maungdaw and the ancient city of Mrauk-U in Myebon Township which is one of Rakhine’s most popular tourist attractions.

After holding a state cabinet meeting on Jan. 23, the National League for Democracy (NLD)-appointed ministers decided to allow the operation to be carried out in these seven townships “in line with the procedure.”

The letter mentioned the four departments to be responsible for implementing the operation and ordered them to report back to the state government when completed. The Rakhine State parliament deputy house speaker U Mya Than confirmed the authenticity of the letter, saying that the signature matched that of Minister U Kyaw Aye Thein.

“We have to wait and see their actions in the seven townships. We have already informed our lawmakers to monitor whether their actions go beyond the [stipulated] procedure or not.”

In conversation over the phone with The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Minister U Kyaw Aye Thein said they had previously allowed such inspections in that area, but when questioned on the most recent inspection operation approved on Jan. 25, he said he could not remember signing it.

“I cannot remember well because I’ve had to sign many letters,” he said.

Rakhine State police chief Col. Kyi Linn said he was not aware of the letter.

When The Irrawaddy contacted township administrative officials from Kyauktaw, Rathedaung and Maungdaw, they all said they hadn’t received the letter as of Thursday. They speculated that this is because it is addressed to the security forces and higher departments rather than township level administration and they believe its authenticity.

The Irrawaddy asked them whether the state government gave the same order to the military following the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)’s attacks on government border outposts in 2017. In that case, the operation resulted in a crackdown on the Rohingya community which drove more than 700,000 people to flee across the Bangladesh border. The UN has been calling for army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court for his role in committing the crimes against the Rohingya community.

In response to the question, the officials said they never heard of a headcount instruction letter during the 2017 Rohingya crisis.

Despite the letter specifying townships in northern Rakhine, it has been reported on the ground that teams of fully-equipped soldiers, police and immigration officials are carrying out checks in at least three village tracts in southern Rakhine’s Kyaukphyu Township this week where several Chinese mega projects are located.

The day after the AA’s Jan. 4 attacks, Myanmar’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi organized a rare high-level meeting in Naypyidaw and the President’s Office later gave the green light for the army to retaliate against the AA rebels.

In a Jan. 18 press conference held by the army in Naypyidaw, Maj-Gen Tun Tun Nyi revealed that “She, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, instructed us to effectively crush the AA. If we don’t, there will be finger-pointing over why [the army] has not crushed [members of a recognized] ethnic group, but has crushed ARSA (who practice a different religion).”