Reporters from 18 domestic and international news agencies on Friday toured Rohingya Muslim villages in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in the northern part of Myanmar’s Rakhine state which has continued to be wracked by violence nine months after a deadly attack on border guard posts last October.
The government said it would impose no restrictions on the group, which arrived in Rakhine on Wednesday for the five-day trip and includes a reporter from Radio Free Asia’s Myanmar Service.
The country’s border guard police are providing security for the group who have been granted unrestricted access, though they have been advised to stay close to officials to ensure their safety, Myanmar News Agency reported.
“There are no restrictions regarding the areas you can report from,” Thet Swe, a director at the Ministry of Information’s News and Periodicals Enterprise, told the journalists on Wednesday, according to the report.
“We didn’t arrange any ‘for show’ places for news reporting,” he said.
The government permitted the reporters to visit the areas after an obscure group of Rohingya militants killed nine border patrol officers during raids on their posts near the Bangladeshi border on Oct 9.
An estimated 1,000 died during a subsequent security sweep and about 90,000 Rohingya residents fled, some of whom accused troops of arson, torture, rape, indiscriminate killings.
The government has denied most of the charges and has refused to issue visas for experts appointed to a United Nations fact-finding mission tasked with investigating the allegations.
'They killed my son'
Violence continues to plague the townships where Muslims said to have worked closely with local administrative officials or security forces have been kidnapped and killed, reportedly by other Muslims.
In addition, recent killings of ethnic Rakhine people, who constitute a minority in the area, coupled with alarm about armed assaults by Rohingya Muslims have force scores of ethnic Rakhine to flee Maungdaw in recent weeks and troops to be put on high alert.
Murian Khaton, a resident of Buithidaung’s Maunghnama village, told reporters that about 10 people armed with knives had entered the house of her son, 55-year-old Adul Suwon, around midnight on July 4.
“They killed my son and took his body,” she said.
Adul Suwon’s family members said they do not know who committed the crime, but they assume that the killers came from Bangladesh.
Village administrator Maung Lon told reporters that the man was killed because he was working an informant for the government army.
“Village officials have been sleeping in other people’s houses every night since July 4 on security detail,” he said. “Top-level officials have warned us to be very careful.”
He also said villagers have teamed up with security forces to patrol the village, and authorities told residents to inform the township administrative office if they receive any threats.
So far, no reports have been filed, he said.
“We have been living in this village since 1964,” said villager Khagi Bawchaw. “We are afraid of living here now because of the people who came in recently. They kill people by cutting their throats.”
Residents go to other places at 6 p.m. every day to sleep because they fear being attacked at night if they stay in Maunghnama village.
The villagers said they do not know anything about the militants, such as who they are and where they are from.
The group of reporters also visited Tinmay village in Buthidaung where Myanmar security forces were involved in a shootout with what the government said were “armed terrorists” on July 9 during which two Muslim men were killed and another arrested after they detonated an explosive device.
The current reporting trip to northern Rakhine coincides with a visit to the state by Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights to Myanmar, though she is not expected to visit Maungdaw or Buthidaung townships.
The government previously permitted a group of independent domestic journalists to visit Maungdaw township on Dec. 19-22 and March 28-April 1.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.