By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
YANGON, (AA): An international rights group accused Myanmar’s military Thursday of carrying out a campaign of arson, killings and rape against Rohingya Muslims in recent operations in troubled Rakhine State.
A statement released by Human Rights Watch claimed that refugees who fleeing violence that followed deadly Oct. 9 attacks on police outposts had recounted how security forces “retaliated by inflicting horrific abuses” on the minority.
“Refugee accounts paint a horrific picture of an army that is out of control and rampaging through Rohingya villages,” said the group’s Asia director Brad Adams.
“The Burmese government says its crackdown is in response to a security threat, but what security advantage could possibly be gained by raping and killing women and children?”
Myanmar has said that at least 93 people — 17 police and soldiers and 76 alleged “attackers” (including six who reportedly died during interrogation) — were killed and some 575 suspects have been detained for alleged involvement in the Oct. 9 attacks and the subsequent military crackdown.
Rohingya advocacy groups, however, claim around 400 Rohingya — described by the UN as among the most persecuted groups worldwide — were killed in the military operations, women were raped and Rohingya villages torched.
The military has denied the mounting charges, but there has been no independent verification as a military lockdown of the area since Oct. 9 has restricted access by human rights monitors and independent journalists.
Thursday’s statement said HRW had interviewed a dozen Rohingya refugees who fled Rakhine’s northern Maungdaw Township and arrived in neighboring Bangladesh.
Those fleeing had provided video testimony about Myanmar troops “using automatic weapons, looting and burning homes, killing villagers, including entire families, and raping women and girls”.
The rights group quoted a 26-year-old identified as “Kasim” as saying that soldiers had “shot indiscriminately whomever they found” in the village of Kyet Yoe Pyin, also known as Kari Paraung.
“Elderly and children were shot dead… Many people were killed… [The soldiers] dragged the women from the houses by their hair. They took off the women’s clothes and longyi [sarongs]. They trampled their necks. They pulled up their blouses and removed their bras. They raped them right there in the yard.”
In the statement, HRW called on authorities to immediately invite the United Nations human rights office to send staff to northern Rakhine “to investigate and publicly report back on abuses”.
It criticized a government-established investigative committee that travelled to the region earlier this month, saying that its conclusion that the military operations in the area had been handled “lawfully” had to be looked at with skepticism.
“This summary rejection of allegations, as well as concerns about the committee’s composition and mandate, raise serious doubts that its investigation will be thorough and impartial,” it said, of the committee, which is headed by a former military general.
“The government’s failure to appoint credible commissions to thoroughly and impartially investigate the allegations undermines claims that it is building a country based on the rule of law,” Adams underlined.
Amid growing international and regional concerns, two entities have visited the affected area — the widely-criticized government commission led by Vice-President Myint Swe — and the Advisory Commission on Rakhine, which is headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and was set up to advise the government on resolving conflicts in the state.
HRW stressed Thursday the need for the government to immediately allow unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Rakhine amid UN reports that an estimated 27,000 Rohingya are now sheltering in neighboring Bangladesh.
It cited humanitarian organizations as saying that since October, the UN and other international NGOs have not been able to reach 130,000 highly vulnerable people in northern Maungdaw who previously received food, cash, and nutrition assistance.
Earlier this week, the UN secretary-general’s special advisor on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, told Anadolu Agency that the situation in Rakhine is “a very complex” and long-standing problem, the cure for which is “to address the substantive issues and the root causes”.
He called on the new government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi — the country’s first fully democratic body in more than 50 years — to work closely with its old foe, the military.
“[Suu Kyi] has to work with the army and the army has to work with her. She needs to be a little more assertive in taking action to reassure both the local population and international community and I have confidence that she will do that,” Nambiar said.
[Photo: Destruction of houses by Myanmar military in Rakhine State on November 2016. Photograph by Human Rights Watch/AA]