By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, (AA): United Nations human rights experts have called on Myanmar to address growing reports of violations in western Rakhine State after areas housing the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority were torched following fatal attacks on police station outposts.
In the more than two weeks since armed individuals killed nine officers and stole dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition, restrictions have been placed on aid delivery and access to information in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships as the army continues to search for those responsible.
On Tuesday, Maung Maung, a Rohingya man living in Rakhine capital Sittwe, told Anadolu Agency that “bad things” had been happening in Maungdaw since the military operation began.
“We have had several calls from Maungdaw residents over the past few days. They said soldiers discriminate against them and forcibly took them for confession,” he said by phone.
“They said soldiers took innocent village men for interrogation… and Rohingya there told us they have not had enough food for a few days.”
On Monday, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee said in a statement that even though a probe has been called for into the violence, the attacks continue.
“State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has rightly called for proper investigations to be conducted and for no one to be accused until solid evidence is obtained,” Lee sad.
“Instead, we receive repeated allegations of arbitrary arrests as well as extrajudicial killings occurring within the context of the security operations conducted by the authorities in search of the alleged attackers.”
Lee underlined that a major problem had been the lack of access for a proper assessment of the true picture.
“The blanket security operations have restricted access for humanitarian actors with concerning consequences for communities’ ability to secure food and conduct livelihood activities.”
In the aftermath of the Oct. 9 attacks, at least 29 suspected attackers (including two women) have been killed, and dozens of people have been arrested in the areas predominantly occupied by the country’s stateless Rohingya population — described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world.
Police and military searching for the attackers have been accused of executing civilians (some of them Rohingya children), and torching homes and religious buildings.
“Reports of homes and mosques being burnt down and persons of a certain profile being rounded up and shot are alarming and unacceptable,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard.
“The authorities cannot justify simply shooting suspects down on the basis of the seriousness of the crime alone… [they] have the duty to take concrete measures to prevent extrajudicial killings in the country, not to perpetuate them.”
The Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) has also said that reports are emerging of soldiers raping Rohingya women.
“At least ten cases of rape against Rohingya women have been documented by civilians in Maungdaw since the army entered the city,” Executive Director Kyaw Win said in a statement Tuesday.
“These reports, while difficult to independently verify, contain strong evidence and beg for further investigation.”
It added that it had interviewed one woman who claimed to have been beaten and gang raped by two Myanmar soldiers while she was three months pregnant on Oct. 11.
With police and soldiers continuing to hunt those responsible for the initial raids, many members of both the Rohingya and Rakhine communities have fled their homes in fear.
Last week, Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the blocking of aid had worsened the humanitarian situation in the area, saying 3,000 ethnic Rakhine and as many as 15,000 Rohingya had been displaced.
“Recent violence in northern Rakhine State has led the army to deny access to aid agencies that provide essential health care and food to people at grave risk,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.
“The Rohingya and others have been especially vulnerable since the ethnic cleansing campaign in 2012, and many rely on humanitarian aid to survive.”
Adams stressed that the government “has a responsibility to search for and arrest those who attacked the border posts”.
“But it is required to do so in a manner that respects human rights, ensures that the area’s people get the aid they need, and allows journalists and rights monitors into the area.”
A 74-year-old Rohingya man — originally a resident of Warpaik village but now sheltering in Kyetyoepyin after his home was destroyed — told Anadolu Agency last week that much needed aid had practically dried up.
“Rakhine people are getting help from their community, but no one is helping us here,” he said by phone on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“We are also restricted from moving to other villages.”
Displaced Rakhine sheltered in Maungdaw have also said they have not received any offer of assistance from UN agencies or other NGOs, and accused them of ignoring their needs.
“We, Rakhine people, are in trouble. But no UN agency or NGO wants to help us,” Aung Kyaw Min told local media last week.
[Archive photo: Muslim fisherman works shore of Thae Chaung Camp near Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State. Photographer: Sitt Thway Naing/AA]