The Irrawaddy

President’s Office Vows to ‘Counter’ Arakan Attacks; Locals Call for an End to Violence

People seek refuge at Thabyae Gone monastery in Maungdaw Township after fighting between the Burma Army and militant broke out nearby villages. (Photo: Rakhine Gazette / Facebook)

SITTWE, Arakan State — Four suspects have reportedly confessed to taking part in and planning attacks on border guard posts in northern Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township with the financial backing of outside terrorist organizations, according to a President’s Office statement released on Friday.

Two of the men were transferred from Bangladeshi authorities to Burma and two were captured in Maungdaw Township.

The statement said that the four men confessed to authorities—which were unspecified—to taking part in an attack on border posts on Sunday with the aim of occupying Maungdaw Township, led by a group they identified as Aqa Mul Mujahidin, which the President’s Office described as being affiliated with the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), last known to be active in the 1980s and 1990s.

The statement also said an investigation had revealed that the group allegedly receives financial backing from Islamic terror networks and is led by a 45-year-old living in Kyauk Pyin Seik village of Maungdaw Township who attended six months of training in Pakistan.

“We will effectively counterattack any terror attack or attempted terror attack,” the President’s Office statement said. “We will also investigate, identify and take harsh actions against those behind the terrorists, those who support them secretly, and organizations and individuals that aid and abet terrorism.”

The group was allegedly planning to attack six border posts with 400 armed men last Sunday, but, armed with machetes, instead attacked a border patrol police headquarters and two outposts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships, killing nine policemen and looting firearms.

According to state-run media, the Tatmadaw arrested another man in Maungdaw Township’s Warpaik Village on Wednesday and reportedly confiscated a MA-11 gun, 11 cartridges, 1,510 rounds of ammunition and flags and badges connected to the RSO.

The man is the fifth suspect to have been detained in the area since Sunday.

Military-controlled Myawaddy media said on Thursday that while Burma Army troops carried out a manhunt for the suspects Wednesday in Kyet Yoe Pin Village of Maungdaw Township, ten suspected militants were killed and one gun was seized in clashes.

Five Burma Army soldiers have been killed in the manhunt, and 15 men—suspected militants—have been killed by government forces.

Military Operation Areas

Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in northern Arakan State are designated as military operation areas until firearms looted from border police force are recovered, ministers told reporters at a press conference in the state capital of Sittwe on Friday.

On Thursday, Arakan State Chief Minister Nyi Pu summoned NGOs and INGOs to the state government office to update them on the situation in Maungdaw Township. He told relief organizations that to work in areas of military operations they must apply for permission from the government and follow rules and regulations, according to his official Facebook page.

Nyi Pu said that “Although the neighboring town of Buthidaung has returned to normal and shops have opened, the market is closed in Maungdaw. Unless the government can recover the firearms, armed clashes could happen at any time.”

He mentioned that some attackers are from “outside,” referring to Bangladesh, and alleged that they had links to Maungdaw Muslim residents.

Brig-Gen Thura Sun Lwin of the border police told international relief organizations, including United Nations (UN) organizations and partners, that foreigners are currently prohibited from entering Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships.

Displaced Persons and Reports of Abuse

A joint statement released on Monday by 14 Rohingya organizations in exile accused government soldiers of killing seven unarmed men in the village of Myothugyi; the Burma Army described the casualties of being those of suspected militants.

The groups called on international organizations and governments to pressure the ruling National League for Democracy government to halt such actions, and end persecution against Muslims in the region.

Since then, further accusations of abuses—detainments, and the burning of houses—have surfaced.

Arakan State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu sought to quell rumors of abuse with a statement on Facebook saying that news from the government should be regarded as true.

“The Union government is trying to decrease the worries of the two communities and we [the state government] are also carrying out on-the-ground information for law enforcement and stability in this region,” his post said.

In Maungdaw Township, local sources say that ethnic Mro and Thet villagers—fearing the unrest—have been seeking safety in monasteries in Buthidaung.

Arakan National Party (ANP) secretary U Tha Htun Hla visited Maungdaw yesterday to support the displaced villagers. According to him, about 300 people were sheltering at Buddhist monasteries.

The Arakan State government office secretary U Tin Maung Swe said that local Arakanese from the area concerned for their safety would need to be relocated. The Burma Army has also airlifted 90 school teachers from areas of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, according to the state government.

Meanwhile on Friday, residents of two villages in rural areas of Maungdaw Township were taking refuge in Sittwe, saying they were too frightened to remain at their homes following Sunday’s attacks.

A total of 36 people from the villages were staying at a Buddhist monastery in the state capital.

Four women from the group met a delegation from the World Food Programme (WFP) headed by Stephen O’Brien, United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“My child and I are safe here, but my husband is at home and we don’t yet know how safe he is,” villager Daw Thein Shwe told the UN delegation, through tears. Rumors and the deaths of policemen in Sunday’s attacks had triggered the decision to leave Myaing Tha Ya and Aung Mingalar villages, she said.

A total of 60 more people from the area were expected to arrive in Sittwe later on Friday, the delegation heard. A WFP representative told the villagers that it would work with the state government to provide assistance.

Meanwhile, U Hla Shwe, a community leader from the Rohingya Muslim community in Sittwe worried that the violence would spread. “We condemn those acting with violence,” he said, adding that his community loved peace, and wished to live in peace.

Ko Wai Hun Aung, an Arakanese social activist, said that using force may not be the best way to find suspects and that authorities should instead work with local religious leaders.