The Irrawaddy

Police Dismantle Settlement Built on Razed Rohingya Village

YANGON – An upper house lawmaker confirmed that police this evening completely dismantled an ethnic Arakan village built on the site of a burned-out Rohingya community in Rakhine State’s southern Maungdaw Township.

U Kyaw Kyaw Win of the Arakan National Party (ANP) said that about 10 police vehicles showed up at the new settlement of 48 dwellings next to Thin Baw Gwe village in the afternoon and officers began tearing down the structures in the early evening.

Some of the villagers evacuated themselves to the nearby village of Inn Din and some moved to neighboring Kyauk Pan Du.

The lawmaker also confirmed that two leading figures behind the establishment of the Arakanese village were detained and brought into police custody after a local court issued a summons for their arrest for “threatening public tranquility” under Article 505 (b), which carries a maximum sentence of two years.

An image of the official summons bearing a blue stamp that had been signed and dated last Friday had gone viral on Facebook in recent days. The legal notice briefly states that the accused, Tun Myint Oo and his wife, Ohmar Kyaw, and an associate, Aung Naing, were required to appear at the court at 10:00 a.m on Monday.

The notice did not mention the plaintiff nor the cause of the summons. According to some Maungdaw residents, Tun Myint Oo is a Ma Ba Tha follower and a former soldier who actively helped arrange visits of notorious firebrand monk Wira Thu to Maungdaw last year.

U Kyaw Kyaw Win confirmed to The Irrawaddy over the phone that the charges in the summons were related to the disputed settler village and were filed by local authorities.

Following the arrest and detention of two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kaw Soe Oo, for allegedly violating the Official Secrets Acts, this Irrawaddy reporter went to Maungdaw last December to learn more about the story they had been working on: the mass murder of 10 Rohingya by security forces and Arakanese vigilantes near Inn Din, which is about a five-minute drive from Thin Baw Gwe.

The mass killings happened amid a military counter-terrorism operation targeting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Maungdaw District in late 2017, which resulted in nearly 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, instantly creating the world’s largest refugee camp. The UN Security Council described the mass exodus and devastation in Maungdaw as “ethnic cleansing” immediately after a delegation of representatives visited the area earlier this year.

In response to the international outcry, the Myanmar Army announced that it had sacked two senior military generals in June 2018 as punishment for mishandling the operation, though international rights groups and independent watchdogs continue to demand Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.

In November 2017, the new settler village was founded with nearly 100 houses and a temporary monastery near the entrance of Thin Baw Gwe village. The new settlement sits beside the charred remains of what was once a Rohingya community. A Buddhist religious flag and structure and Banyan tree can clearly be seen from the nearby Ahngu Maw-Maungdaw Highway, about 300 feet away.

Only a few weeks after it was built, authorities instructed the newly settled villagers to move to Inn Din, an Arakan-ethnic village, and nearly 50 families shifted there. Most of them had originally come from different locations in Rakhine State.

Recently, some of the settlers who remained at the newly built village told local media that authorities had ordered them to leave within one week or face arrest.

Regarding the controversial settlement, the authorities held a consultation meeting with lawmakers and residents at the local government offices in Maungdaw on July 3. Parliamentarian U Kyaw Kyaw Win recalled that during the discussions the authorities had specified that the land belonged to the “Bengali community”, a term which locals commonly use to refer to the Rohingya, as they are believed to have been brought to the area by the British to work as farmhands during a time of labor shortage.

“We were told by authorities during the meeting that UN agencies had complained to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi about the new settler village. And that she then ordered the state government to abolish newly built villages as they had violated procedures,” U Kyaw Kyaw Win said.

The authorities had already ordered some leading members of resettlement activists to halt their activities several times. Rakhine-based print publication Development Media Group (DMG) reported that families in some newly built houses near Inn Din were also ordered to abandon their dwellings.

In a video report published on DMG’s website, Ohmar Kyaw and Aung Naing reiterate the ideologies of the Ancillary Committee for Reconstruction of Rakhine National Territory in the Western Frontier (ACRRNT), or CRR as the group is known locally, and argue that lands owned by Arakanese were grabbed by the British-founded guerrilla army known as V Force in early 1943.

Some locals say that although seeking a “demographic balance” is the CRR’s strategic goal, especially to settle southern Maungdaw with Arakanese villages; Thin Baw Gwe village was not on its list. CRR members could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Maungdaw district official U Ye Htut of the General Administration Department (GAD) could not be reached for comment on Monday.