RANGOON — Burma’s President Office spokesperson has denied accusations of human rights violations being carried out by security forces in northern Arakan State, saying, “we haven’t done anything lawless.”
His responses came after United Nations human rights experts called on the Burmese government to take action against alleged arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings and burning of mosques and homes by authorities during manhunts in Maungdaw and surrounding areas for suspected attackers against border guard outposts earlier this month.
“What troubles me most is the lack of access for a proper assessment of the true picture of the situation there at the present moment,” said UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma Yanghee Lee in the statement.
“The blanket security operations have restricted access for humanitarian actors with concerning consequences for communities’ ability to secure food and conduct livelihood activities,” the expert emphasized.
The UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Dr. Agnes Callamard, also said in the statement that the government should investigate and prosecute the perpetrators in a court of law and “not with violence.”
“Reports of homes and mosques being burnt down and persons of a certain profile being rounded up and shot are alarming and unacceptable,” she stated.
The President’s Office Spokesperson U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that reports of security forces carrying out extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and village burnings were just “accusations.”
He said that it was the government’s security forces who tried to put out fires after suspected militants set ablaze houses where they had hidden guns, before running away in an effort to abandon any evidence.
“The security forces haven’t arrested anyone without evidence. The arrests we made so far are based on the testimony and information we got through investigation of the attackers we have arrested,” U Zaw Htay said.
When asked about killings, the spokesperson said that security forces acted in response to people trying to harm them during the manhunt for suspects. “We have already released information about it,” he added.
Including the initial attack on three police border posts on Oct. 9, nine police officers and five soldiers have been killed during the manhunt for the attackers. A total of 32 alleged attackers have also been killed by government forces with 51 arrested as of Monday.
U Zaw Htay also denied a Reuters report of the Burma Army’s forced eviction of Muslim Rohingya villagers in a crackdown following attacks on border security forces, saying villagers had simply run away when the security forces came in.
“We are even encouraging them to stay at their homes rather than fleeing, as it makes more difficult to find the suspected attackers who are hiding among them.”