By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, (AA): An international rights group called on Myanmar’s government Thursday to immediately allow independent monitors and journalists to verify reports of mass destruction and other rights abuses in western Rakhine State.
The army-run Myawaddy newspaper has claimed that mass arson attacks on Rohingya villages in a northern area of troubled Rakhine under Myanmar military control are self-inflicted by villagers to evoke global sympathy, while Rohingya groups say the torchings are an army tactic to wipe out Rohingya villages and then deflect blame.
On Thursday, U.S-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the government should give human rights monitors and independent journalists prompt and unfettered access to the area now authorities have confirmed the property destruction.
A military inspection team has claimed 185 structures were torched in four Rohingya villages in Maungdaw Township, while a Nov. 13 Human Rights Watch report utilizing satellite imagery identified 430 buildings destroyed in the area.
“The Burmese government’s confirmation of widespread fire damage in northern Rakhine State and offer to allow media access is a step toward getting at the truth of what happened,” said HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams.
“But this is long overdue… Prompt and unhindered access to affected areas for independent investigations by the media and human rights organizations is crucial.”
On Wednesday, Shwe Maung, a former Rohingya lawmaker, described the state media report as “ridiculous”, adding that the “tactic” has been utilized by the military in Maungdaw in Rakhine State before.
“It’s not that strange because Rohingya villagers were also blamed when troops and police burnt down homes in Du Chi Yar Tan village,” he said, referring to an instance in January 2014 in which 48 Rohingya are reported to have died.
“The government should investigate what is happening in Maungdaw instead of blaming victims again and again.”
The accusation is reflective of a campaign in which both Rohingya and military have tried to blame each other.
Since an armed group launched fatal attacks on police stations in the country’s west last month, the government has said that at least 86 people — 17 soldiers and 69 alleged “attackers” (among them two women) — have been killed in Rakhine.
Rohingya groups, however, claim that the numbers killed in the last weekend alone could be as high as 150 civilians.
The government says that troops have arrested a further 30 people — taking the overall number of those held to 278 for allegedly preparing to attack government troops during the on-going military clearance operation.
There has been no independent verification of the arrests or attacks as access to the affected area near the Bangladesh border has been under Myanmar military control since the attacks on police stations of Oct. 9.
On Wednesday, Major General Soe Naing Oo told a press briefing in capital Nay Pyi Taw that it was difficult to ensure security and safety as the area concerned has been declared an operation zone and troops were ambushed frequently.
“The attackers were not in uniform and the troops could not exactly say where the camps of the attackers were,” state-run newspaper the Mirror quoted him as saying.
[Photo: Houses destroyed by Myanmar Government forces in Rakhine State. By Human Rights Watch]