In Maungdaw Village, Residents Fret Over Missing Family Members

By Lawi Weng & Sanay Lin 11 February 2014

DU CHEE YAR TAN, Maungdaw Township — Zuu Lar Har is living in deep distress as she has been waiting more than three weeks for her 18-year-old daughter Zuu Kai to turn up.

The 60-year-old Muslim resident of Du Chee Yar Tan village in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, said she feared for the life of Zuu Kai after she disappeared during the tumultuous events of Jan. 13, when, according to accounts of local villagers, an Arakanese Buddhist mob violently raided the village.

Zuu Lar Har said her daughter had been sick and bed-ridden when the alleged attack took place, and as the Muslim villagers fled Zuu Kai went missing. “I thought my daughter had come along with the family, but later I found she hadn’t,” Zuu Lar Har said.

“I do not know whether she is still alive or not. I am really worried about her security. I only trust that Allah provides for her safety,” she told Irrawaddy reporters who visited Du Chee Yar Tan village early last week. “If she is still alive, she would have contacted us or came back to our family because she is 18 years old already and her mind is fine.”

The village in the south of Maungdaw Township, located in northern Arakan State, is the site of the alleged killing of dozens of Rohingyas, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who said that police and an Arakanese mob were involved in the supposed attack on Jan. 13. Médicine Sans Frontières (MSF) said it treated 22 wounded people from the village in days following the supposed attack.

Burma’s government has, however, vehemently denied mob violence took place and has insisted that a police sergeant named Aung Kyaw Thein was attacked by Muslim villagers during a patrol on Jan. 13 and subsequently went missing. The government claims that the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a little-known Islamic militant group, was involved in the killing of the policeman.

Officials reject allegations, made by the UN rights office, that police might have let an Arakanese Buddhist mob loose on the Muslim village in an apparent retaliation for the killing of the policeman. Inter-communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists in western Burma’s Arakan State has killed scores and left more than 140,000 people displaced since 2012.

Burma’s government has allowed UN staff and foreign diplomats to inspect Du Chee Yar Tan village, and encouraged journalists to visit the site in Maungdaw, a Muslim-majority region on the border with Bangladesh where access is severely restricted.

Irrawaddy reporters were allowed to travel outside of Maungdaw town last week, but were warned against entering Du Chee Yar Tan village alone.

“They do not trust other people except Muslims. So, if you are going inside the village it will be dangerous for you,” police lieutenant Wai Phyo Zaw said, adding that he would send no less than 10 well-armed officers into the area for any operation.

During an unaccompanied visit to Du Chee Yar Tan village, reporters witnessed ample signs of recent violence as dozens of the wooden and thatched-roofed homes appeared destroyed, looted or abandoned. Only about 60 villagers remained of the original population of several thousand Muslims, most of who are believed to have fled to surrounding villages.

The impoverished villagers appeared anxious and an atmosphere of fear prevailed in the village. Interviews with about 20 villagers revealed that all had fled on the night of Jan. 13 when word spread of an approaching Arakanese mob from the nearby village of Na Da La, located about a kilometer away.

None of the interviewees could provide an eye witness account of the mob attack as they fled to other nearby Muslim villages, but all were adamant that the destruction in the village had been caused by the mob, while many said that they had lost touch with family members. Few disputed the report that a policeman had been attacked earlier on Jan. 13.

Har Ja Ra, a 45-year-old woman from the southern part of the village, said two of her daughters, Saw May Dar, 16, and Ah Gyi Dar, 14, had gone missing since the alleged Arakanese mob attack.

Villagers said they worried that their missing family members had been arrested or killed, but none stated that they had witnessed any dead bodies in the village. “We will only know the exact number of disappeared when all people come back to the village,” said Ahmed Hussein.

Police lieutenant Wai Phyo Zaw said 16 Muslim villagers had been arrested in relation to the disappearance of the police sergeant.

Representatives of the Arakanese community flatly rejected allegations of an Arakanese mob attack on Jan. 13 and dismissed the claims that dozens of inhabitants of Du Chee Yar Tan village had since gone missing.

Khin Maung Gyi, a senior member of the recently-formed Arakan National Party, said in a phone call from Sittwe, “They [Muslims] always say their people have disappeared when they feel that they are not safe. Now [they do so] because the police is trying to make arrests among them because they killed a police officer.”

Nyo Aye, an Arakanese activist who has led campaigns calling on international aid groups to stop providing care to Muslim communities, claimed the inhabitants of Du Chee Yar Tan village were receiving instructions from MSF. “They lie about how their people were killed in the village. They do what MSF told them to do. But, it is not true about the killings,” she said.

Preliminary investigations by the Myanmar Human Rights Commission and an Arakan State government commission have so far found no evidence of a mob attack and only established that a police officer has gone missing.

The US government has called on Naypyidaw to set up an independent investigation team that includes at least one international expert—a suggestion that Burmese officials have rejected.

On Friday, the government announced that a new commission will investigate events in Du Chee Yar Tan village in order to establish the “root cause” of the death of a policeman. The announcement, however, failed to specify if the investigation will address allegations made by the United Nations that dozens of Muslims were killed.