Death Toll Rises in Arakan State Manhunt

By Moe Myint 12 October 2016

RANGOON – Arakan State government secretary U Tin Maung Swe has rejected a statement by exiled Rohingya organizations that Burma Army troops targeted civilians in their search for suspects in an attack on police outposts.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a group of 250 armed men attacked border patrol police headquarters and two outposts—in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships—killing nine policemen and looting firearms. In clashes which followed, five Burma Army soldiers were killed—four at the scene of fighting, and one later, in a hospital.

According to state media reports, fifteen men are believed to have been killed in various Maungdaw Township villages since the attack, and four have been detained by the Tatmadaw.

On Monday, 14 Rohingya organizations in exile issued a statement condemning state violence against villagers during the manhunt. The majority of Muslims in Maungdaw self-identify as Rohingya, but are labeled “Bengali” by the government.

Government officials rejected the Rohingya organizations’ assertion that rights violations had taken place, maintaining that the casualties were those of suspected militants.

“I would like to say that is counter-propaganda,” U Tin Maung Swe told The Irrawaddy, in reference to the statement. “We are carrying out [operations] in line with existing laws.”

It is as of yet unknown if the attackers had an affiliation with a larger group.

“We are analyzing the facts to identify if those people belong to an organization,” U Tin Maung Swe added.

Local journalist Aung Ko Ko, who is currently in Maungdaw Township, spoke with The Irrawaddy over the phone, confirming that no significant ambush occurred on Wednesday. Maungdaw merchant U Aung Myint Thein reported no fighting in the town.

Both Aung Ko Ko and U Aung Myint Thein said that villages throughout the township were continuing to be inspected by government troops in a search for the assailants.

“The downtown situation has returned to normal now,” said U Aung Myint Thein.

He added that many Arakanese residents have been seen leaving the area since the Sunday attack, with the local jetty visibly full of people.

Border trade gates with Bangladesh have been closed indefinitely and navy ships are monitoring the coastline. All of Maungdaw’s 400 schools were ordered to close on Monday.

The Irrawaddy phoned Maungdaw District authorities for comment on the current situation on Wednesday but officials said they were pre-occupied with Information Minister Pe Myint’s visit to the region.