YANGON – Sittwe district police chief Lt-Col Win Naung said suspects have not yet been apprehended in a mob attack on Tuesday that left one Muslim man dead, despite the presence of a police escort on the scene.
Police officials declined to release a statement from the police private who accompanied seven Muslim Rohingya men from the Dapaing camp for internally displaced people to Ywar Gyi Mrauk quarter, a neighborhood with a Rakhine Buddhist majority. Earlier, the group had traveled to the city to witness a trial at the township courthouse, two kilometers from the site of the attack.
The Lt-Col admitted that the private assigned to the duty from the No. 2 police station was unarmed and had fled the mob attack, and said that he felt powerless to stop the aggression.
“We are still investigating the incident and will release a statement later,” he said.
Home affairs ministry spokesperson Col Myo Thu Soe told Reuters on Wednesday that they had already questioned the junior policeman who was present during the attack. He said he had tried to prevent the violence, but was unsuccessful as he had no weapon, and therefore ran back to the police station.
A police official told The Irrawaddy over the phone that they normally would provide an armed escort when IDPs travel to downtown Sittwe or to the market.
Dapaing camp resident U Saw Lwin, who identifies himself as Rohingya, told The Irrawaddy that nearly 100 armed soldiers, including police, had arrived with around a dozen trucks in his village on Tuesday night to bring back the body of the man who had been killed, Maung Nu—also known as Monir Ahmad, aged 55. They also dropped off four others who had survived. Two more men remain hospitalized.
According to a statement from the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee, Cpl Naing Naing and Private Soe Win had transported local community leader U Myint Naing from Dapaing camp by car in order for him to testify at a township courthouse for an ongoing case on Tuesday. But a private minivan carrying seven other men came after the police van to the court without informing the security team at Man Si checkpoint.
Authorities do not allow Muslims to enter Rakhine quarters or to shop at the town market. Buddhist Rakhine are also prohibited from visiting Muslim wards without police permission.
After the trial break on Tuesday, the group of seven Muslims went to No. 2 police station in Sittwe to request security for their return. Police Lt Kyaw Moe, who was recently promoted to serve as head of the station, sent a police private to accompany them.
Town residents typically use the Mayu main road to exit the downtown or to visit Muslim villages located outside of the town. However, on Tuesday the group of Muslim men and the police private were attacked on U Ottama Street in the Rakhine quarter of Ywar Gyi Mrauk, which is in the opposite direction of the return, according to a policeman who spoke to The Irrawaddy on the condition of anonymity.
The State Counselor’s Office statement did not elaborate on how the group ended up there, but stated that the Muslim men had gone to buy an old boat at Yaung Ni Oo jetty. While the men were looking at the boat, a mob reportedly began throwing bricks at them. One was killed on the spot and others were injured.
The government statement did not mention the name of private who was assigned as the security escort, although the victims’ names were published. The Irrawaddy asked authorities several times to provide further detail about the incident, but were not provided with additional information.
Residents from Sittwe and Muslim villagers confirmed that the situation has returned to how it was before the incident, and that the authorities have deployed security forces in the town.