Select Journalists to be Granted Access to Maungdaw—Accompanied by Govt Officials

By Moe Myint 16 December 2016

RANGOON – The Burmese government will allow 13 independent journalists from both international and local media outlets to join a guided visit to Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township on Dec. 20, according to the Ministry of Information’s Deputy Permanent Secretary U Myo Myint Maung.

Maungdaw has been off limits to journalists since armed clashes began in October between militants and government security forces.

U Myo Myint Maung said that “appropriate persons” would be invited on the three-day trip, but declined to comment on the exact number of local and foreign journalists, or to name the organizations that would receive invitations. He emphasized that the selection process had not yet been completed.

The entrance to Maungdaw town. (Photo: Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy)
The entrance to Maungdaw town. (Photo: Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy)

When The Irrawaddy asked about the selection criteria in determining the trip’s participants, the deputy permanent secretary responded that a government team—whose members are not known—would “conclude who is suitable.”

He said that the Ministry of Information would arrange the trip and that government officials would accompany the journalists to villages in Maungdaw where international rights groups have accused Burmese security forces of committing abuses against civilians, including arson, extrajudicial killings, and sexual violence.

The Irrawaddy pointed out that the government has been criticized for not giving the green light to media to investigate these allegations independently.

“I would like to ask you: who ordered that the media be barred [from going]? Has the government?” U Myo Myint Maung said, adding, “That might be for your safety, because you already visited there.”

In late November, The Irrawaddy spent a week in Maungdaw Township, but authorities refused to allow access to villages including Dar Gyee Zar, Zin Paing Nyar, Kyet Yoe Pyin, Gwa Zon, and U Shint Kya.

Since the army began clearance operations in Maungdaw to search for those involved in Oct. 9 attacks on border police outposts, journalists have been restricted from entering the township. Maungdaw–based reporters told The Irrawaddy on Friday that although the government currently allows them to travel to some places in the area, access is still restricted concerning areas where the military is active.

Journalists were also prohibited from accompanying the Kofi Annan-led Arakan State Advisory Commission on the delegation’s second trip to the region in November.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy about the proposed media trip to Maungdaw, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay—also secretary of the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee—did not comment and instructed the reporter to speak directly to the Ministry of Information.