Myanmar Military Court to Begin Trial of Soldiers Over Conduct During ARSA Clash in 2017

By Htet Naing Zaw 25 November 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar military will begin court-martial proceedings on Tuesday against a group of soldiers accused of failing to fully comply with the military’s rules of engagement during a clash with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in northern Rakhine State in 2017.

The fighting, which left 19 ARSA members dead, occurred in Gutar Pyin Village in Buthidaung Township in August 2017 during the Myanmar military’s clearance operations in the area. The clearance operations, launched after ARSA staged a series of attacks on security outposts that month, caused nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. UN investigators say the Myanmar military operations had “genocidal intent”. The Myanmar government has denounced ARSA as a terrorist organization.

The military said a court of inquiry led by Major-General Myat Kyaw had investigated the incident and found that the soldiers did not fully comply with military instructions and rules of engagement, according to military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.

“Tomorrow, the case will be heard at a Summary General Court Martial at a local battalion in Buthidaung, and the proceedings will be led by the battalion’s officials,” he told The Irrawaddy. The 1959 Myanmar Martial Laws state that the court must be supervised by three officials authorized to impose the death sentence.

The military first announced two months ago its plans to hold proceedings relating to the Gutar Pyin clash, but did not provide an exact date. The announcement comes two weeks after The Gambia filed a case at the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Myanmar, accusing it of genocide against the Rohingya. Last week, the government announced that State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would lead a team to The Hague to contest the case in early December when the first public hearings are scheduled to be held.

However, the military’s proceedings don’t impress observers, given its actions against the perpetrators of the killings of 10 Rohingya men at Inn Din village in Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine.

Seven soldiers were prosecuted and sentenced to 10 years with hard labor in April last year over their roles in the killings. However, the soldiers were released from prison in November 2018 under a pardon from the Army chief.

Yangon-based ethnic affairs observer U Maung Maung Soe said if found guilty, the punishment for the violators in the Gutar Pyin case must be sufficient to satisfy Myanmar’s international critics.

“However, the international community would have the impression that the case is being heard due to outside pressure, even if it is being done in good faith,” he said.

Gutar Pyin attracted headlines in February this year when The Associated Press reported that hundreds of bodies had been found in five mass graves near the village. It said the bodies had been burned with acid in an apparent attempt to destroy them. When the military first announced plans for a court martial, it said the case had nothing to do with the incident reported by the AP.

The President’s Office denied the AP report, saying that no mass graves were found in Gutar Pyin Village during an inspection of the area on Feb. 1 by officials and Muslim community leaders. Community leaders and local residents said there had been no mass killings, but reported that heavy clashes had erupted between government security forces and ARSA militants in the village on Aug. 28, 2017.