Myanmar Military Says It Needs to Study ICOE Report Before Investigating Rakhine Crimes

By Nyein Nyein 23 January 2020

Myanmar’s military will conduct further investigations into mass killings and arson attacks committed during its 2017 clearance operations in Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships in northern Rakhine State after it has completed studying the details of the 461-page Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE)’s reports and its annexes, a military spokesman said at a press conference in Naypyitaw on Thursday.

In response to reporters’ questions on when investigations into mass killings against civilians, destruction of property and arson in Min Gyi, Chut Pyin and Maung Nu villages will start, the spokesperson did not give details, but said the military will study the ICOE report first and then take the necessary action.

Major General Thaung Naing, deputy judge advocate general and one of the four military spokespersons at Thursday’s press conference, said, “We are studying the details of the ICOE report, which is more than 450 pages, plus the annexes. After that the enquiry tribunals will come.”

Most of the mass killings in late August 2017 were committed in Min Gyi Village in Maungdaw Township, Chut Pyin Village in Ratheduang Township and Maung Nu and Gutar Pyin villages in Buthidaung Township during armed clashes between security forces and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

At least 900 people were killed in these villages, according to the ICOE report, which was submitted to President U Win Myint on Monday.

It said arson was reported in 13 areas that the ICOE was able to access. Min Gyi Village was completely burnt to ashes, while parts of Chut Pyin and Gutar Pyin villages were set on fire by the security forces and their allied thugs. The report also cited witnesses as saying that ARSA members were among the arsonists in some cases.

Maj-Gen Thaung Naing is also chairman of the military’s Legal Advisory Team, which was formed to help the military’s Court of Inquiry with evidence collection, legal matters and procedures.

The Court of Inquiry, led by Major General Myat Kyaw, was formed on March 18, 2019 and is probing allegations of misconduct by soldiers toward the Rohingya during the clearance operations.

The military began court-martial proceedings in the Gutar Pyin case in November following a Court of Inquiry investigation. The discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 19 people in Gutar Pyin was reported by The Associated Press in February 2018. The government initially denied the report, but the military later confirmed its soldiers there did not fully comply with the rules of engagement and said the case would be subject to a court martial.

Maj-Gen Thaung Naing said that in the Gutar Pyin case, the court martial is hearing from witnesses representing the plaintiffs, and that the defense witnesses would be heard from later. He did not provide details on the identity of the witnesses or when the hearing would be complete.

“We will release information after our court martial has completed all proceedings in the [Gutar Pyin] case,” he added.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh in late 2017. Those who fled recalled arbitrary killings, rape and arson against their property by Myanmar security forces. UN investigators said the operations had “genocidal intent”. Both the Myanmar government and military have denied that claim.

The Myanmar government formed the ICOE on July 30, 2018 to investigate allegations of human rights violations during military clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in October 2016 and August 2017 with a view to seeking accountability and formulating recommendations on steps to be taken to ensure peace and stability in the area. The clearance operations were launched in response to coordinated attacks by ARSA on security outposts in Rakhine State.

The ICOE submitted its final report with 22 recommendations to Myanmar President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday. The 461-page document denied that killings and displacement of Rohingya Muslims during security forces’ clearance operations there had “genocidal intent”, contradicting the findings of UN investigators. But the commission admitted that “war crimes, serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place.”

The ICOE report highlighted that more than a dozen case files “provide a basis for the requisite further investigations by the Union Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Judge Advocate General” under the report’s 31 annexes.

The Union Attorney General’s Office also said on Wednesday that it will cooperate with related departments to investigate and prosecute cases involving the killing of civilians, property destruction, looting and other serious crimes committed in Rakhine State in late 2017.

The military’s press conference came hours before the International Court of Justice’s ruling on whether to approve The Gambia’s request that provisional measures be taken against Myanmar. The small African nation filed a lawsuit with the court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya.

During public hearings at the court in December, Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the judges there would be more courts martial after the ICOE submitted its final report.

Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun, a military spokesman, told the reporters in Naypyitaw on Thursday that the military was hopeful the ICJ would rule in favor of Myanmar. “Whatever the decision of the ICJ, we will cooperate with the government. We hope for the best, but we are also prepared for the worst,” he said.

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