Govt Request for Information on Arakan State Operations Unanswered

By Reuters 1 November 2016

The government requested information more than ten days ago from the Burma Army about alleged misconduct by soldiers in Arakan State, but has yet to receive a response, according to a Reuters report.

Military operations in Maungdaw Township near the Bangladesh border, carried out jointly with border guard police, have entered their fourth week after attacks by alleged Islamist militants on border guard posts in northern Arakan State on Oct. 9.

Reuters obtained a list of 13 questions sent by the government to the military, requesting information about reports of killings, looting, arrests and destruction of homes.

“We submitted the list on Oct. 20, but we still haven’t heard back,” the agency was told by a civilian official who refused to be identified because he was not allowed to discuss the previously unpublished list with the media.

In the hunt for perpetrators of the Oct. 9 attacks, the government has said five soldiers and at least 33 insurgents have been killed in clashes with a group it believes has around 400 members drawn from the mostly stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.

While Burma’s army-drafted constitution puts the military firmly in control of security matters, Reuters quoted diplomats and aid workers to have said privately that they were dismayed at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s lack of deeper involvement in the handling of the crisis.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who as well as effectively leading the government as state counselor is also Burma’s foreign minister, has pressed ahead with a busy schedule of overseas trips.

When fighting erupted in Arakan State, she departed for a four-day visit to India, left on Tuesday for a five-day trip to Japan.

“Right now there’s only one person calling the shots—when she’s abroad, nothing gets done,” an international observer familiar with the situation said to Reuters.

United Nations human rights experts have urged the government to investigate the allegations of abuses by troops and UN agencies have called for aid access to the area.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has not directly commented on those calls or on statements from human rights monitors, although she has urged the military to exercise restraint and act within the law.

In its public comments the government—largely through presidential spokesman U Zaw Htay, a former soldier and holdover from the previous military-aligned administration—has backed the military line that the army is conducting carefully targeted sweeps against Islamist militants it blames for the Oct. 9 attacks.

But residents and rights groups have reported killings, looting and sexual assaults committed by soldiers against civilians.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Htin Kyaw met the military’s top brass on Oct. 14 and urged a restrained and judicious response to the attacks.

Civilian officials were “managing that problem very closely,” President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told Reuters on Friday.

“They already agreed on the policy. That’s why the military and the interior ministry ordered ground troops and police in [Arakan State] to work according to the law,” he said.

Richard Horsey, a former United Nations official and analyst based in Rangoon said that since taking power Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government had established a level of “confidence and trust” with the military leadership.

Still, it remains unclear whether there is the “active, working-level relationship” needed to address concerns about the military’s actions in Arakan State, he said.

Civilian and police officials have said it was not possible that security forces had committed abuses.

Diplomats and United Nations officials want independent observers allowed into the area to verify the reports. They are also pressuring the government to allow humanitarian aid into the area, where the Rohingya population are denied Burmese citizenship and face restrictions on their movements.

Last week, eight Rohingya women told Reuters reporters who visited their village that they had been raped by soldiers. Presidential spokesman U Zaw Htay denied the allegations.

Since that report was published, about 400 soldiers again searched the village at the weekend, a resident said on Monday.

The resident, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said security personnel warned women in the village of U Shey Kya about talking to media.