Myanmar security forces on Monday stepped in to prevent a fight between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims in a village in Rathedaung township in the latest incident of communal animosity in volatile Rakhine state, a village official said.
Tensions rose in Zedibyin village after some Muslims used slingshots to shoot at ethnic Rakhine villagers in a cemetery.
“I went there as a village chief to check out reports that some Muslims were using slingshots on Rakhine villagers,” said Maung Aye Tin, chairman of Zedibyin village.
“It was nothing much though,” he said downplaying the incident. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
Ethnic Rakhine guards were put on sentry duty after rumors spread in the village that trained militant Muslims were operating in the vicinity, he said.
Though both ethnic Rakhine people and Rohingya Muslims live in the same village across divided lines, they have been at peace since security forces moved into the area in October 2016, Maung Aye Tin said.
Rathedaung and two other townships in northern Rakhine state — Maungdaw and Buthidaung — have been in a state of upheaval since deadly attacks on three border guard stations on Oct. 9, which were blamed on a group of Rohingya militants.
Myanmar security forces conducted a violent four-month sweep of the region during which an estimated 1,000 people were killed and about 90,000 Rohingya fled, with most going across the border to neighboring Bangladesh.
Some Rohingya have accused the security forces of committing atrocities against them, including indiscriminate killings, rape, and arson, though the Myanmar government has denied the allegations and refused to grant visas to members of an independent fact-finding commission appointed by the United Nations to investigate the incidents.
On Aug. 6, a Myanmar government commission on Rakhine state headed by Vice President Myint Swe dismissed allegations of human rights violations by security forces, despite what some rights groups have said is credible evidence from independent sources.
“The commission’s findings are just the latest attempt to sweep under the rug the massive abuses against the Rohingya last year,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“These atrocities aren’t going to disappear, so the sooner the U.N. fact-finding mission is allowed into Burma, the sooner those responsible can be identified, and redress be provided to the victims,” he said, using the former British colony’s previous name before a ruling military junta changed it to Myanmar in 1989.
New police outposts in Rathedaung
In the meantime, security forces continue to patrol the tri-township area where disappearances, murders, attacks on security forces, and periodic killings by troops continue to occur.
Since June, they have reported finding “terrorist” training sites, tunnels, weapons, and food supplies along the Mayu mountain range in the Maungdaw-Buthidaung township area.
Myanmar’s Rakhine state government said on Tuesday that it has set up new police outposts in four villages in Rathedaung township, from where 700 ethnic Rakhine residents fled to safety out of fear of attacks by Muslim militants.
The four villages are Chootpyin, Padaukmyaing, Pyinshay, and Paukpinyin, the state government said in a statement.
A police outpost was also set up in Kinegyi village, in Maungdaw township, where eight farmers from the ethnic Myo minority group were killed last week by militants, it said.
Kinegyi village has about 50 households, and its residents are all Myo, a sub-ethnic group of the state’s ethnic Rakhine people.
The village was burned during communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 Rohingya who were then placed in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
The statement also said that Rakhine officials will ask the central government to place all international nongovernmental organizations that operate there under the state government’s supervision to ensure that the groups are not providing supplies to local militants.
On July 30, guards and villagers found five temporary camps along the Mayu mountain range thought to be used by Muslim “terrorists,” along with tents, rice, cooking oil, plates, pots, blankets, and high-energy biscuits provided by the World Food Programme to Muslims who live in the IDP camps.
The Rakhine state government said it has asked the central government to speed up the citizenship examination process for the Rohingya in accordance with 1982 Citizenship Law, which effectively renders them stateless by prohibiting them from holding Myanmar citizenship.
The policy also denies the Rohingya — who are seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh though many have lived in Myanmar for generations — basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.