An accidental explosion of handmade bombs in a village in Buthidaung township of western Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state last week killed two people and injured three others, the State Counselor’s Office said Monday.
The blast occurred on May 4 as victims assembled the bombs in Buthidaung’s Theni village, the announcement said.
When security forces checked the village the following day, they found bags of potassium nitrate, sulfur, and coal powder, and other materials used to make bombs near a forest, it said.
No Ahlaung and another unnamed person lost their lives, while Seanshu Ahlaung and two other unnamed people were left injured, according to the announcement.
Security forces are still investigating others involved in making bombs.
Buthidaung along with Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships were under a four-month crackdown from October 2016 to February after a raid blamed on local Rohingya Muslim militants on three border guard stations killed nine officers.
The crackdown killed about 1,000 people and displaced about 90,000 Rohingya, most of whom fled to neighboring Bangladesh where they are living in refugee camps.
The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in March to send an international fact-finding mission to Myanmar to investigate atrocities that the country’s army is said to have committed against the Rohingya during the crackdown.
Advisory commission visits Yangon
An advisory commission appointed by de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to help resolve the religious and ethnic divisions between Buddhists and minority Muslims in Rakhine met on Monday with area religious leaders in the commercial capital Yangon to seek their suggestions about the commission’s report.
The interim report, issued in March, recommended that the government immediately begin allowing displaced Rohingya to return to their homes in Rakhine and eventually shut down the internal camps where more than 120,000 Rohingya have lived following communal violence with Buddhist nationalists in 2012.
The report also recommended that humanitarian groups and media be permitted to visit conflict areas in Rakhine, and that the government provide equal access to health care and education to residents, and recognize the Rohingya as Myanmar citizens and give them citizens’ rights.
Buddhist monks Say Kaneda, Dhamma Piya, and Ariya Wuntha and Muslim leaders Tin Myint and Wunna Shwe attended the meeting on Monday with members from the Rakhine Advisory Commission.
Ariya Wuntha, from Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he suggested the commission urge the government to work on the citizenship process in Rakhine as soon as possible according to 1982 Citizenship Law.
The law excludes the Rohingya from country’s list of 135 national races and stripped them of the citizenship they had enjoyed in the years after the country then known as Burma gained independence from Britain.
“I also said that we need to build trust in order to live together in peace,” he said. “We had problems because we lost trust in each other, so I asked the commission to urge [both communities] to build trust.”
“A country has to have an accurate law [for citizenship] and everybody has to respect and follow it,” he said. “If we have rule of law, we will have fewer problems. Then we will have peace. So we asked the commission to work on rule of law and to respect the law.”
He also said he suggested that the commission, whose members include three Buddhists, three Muslims, and three international experts, be fair and impartial when it presents its findings.
Ariya Wuntha also said that he and the others suggested that the commission eliminate some clauses in its report that granted some of the same rights to both local ethnic people and “those who are not citizens yet”—a tacit reference to the Rohingya who have been denied Myanmar citizenship because they are believed to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“Every country has a concrete law for its citizens and noncitizens,” he said. “Noncitizens can’t work in the administrative sector. We urged the commission to eliminate some clauses concerning this from its report.”
Commission member Win Mra, head of the National Human Rights Commission of Myanmar, said the body was satisfied with the meeting.
The commission members will also go to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe and solicit suggestions from residents based on its findings in its interim report.
The Myanmar government agreed with the findings of the interim report and said it would implement the majority of its recommendations.
The commission must submit its final report to the government on Aug. 24.
Appointed in August 2016, the nine-member advisory commission headed by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan has visited Rakhine several times to meet with camp residents, state officials, and ethnic Rakhine and Muslim community leaders to discuss conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, and development issues in the divided and impoverished state.
More than 1.1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims, whom the Burmese call “Bengalis” because they consider them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, have long been subjected to persecution and attacks and denied basic rights, including citizenship.
HRW condemns school closures
In a related development, the international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Myanmar government on Monday to protect religious freedom after the forced closures of two Islamic religious schools that Yangon authorities shut down on April 28.
A group of up to 100 Buddhist ultranationalists pressured local officials in late April to close the two schools in Thaketa township attended by students aged five to 12, arguing that Muslims were allegedly using them to hold prayers in violation of an agreement signed by school leaders in October 2015.
But HRW said evidence suggests that the agreement is an infringement of the Muslim community’s basic rights to religious freedom.
“Burmese local officials’ craven capitulation to mob demands to shutter two Muslim schools is the latest government failure to protect Burma’s religious minorities,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, in a statement.
“The government should immediately reverse these closures, end restrictions on the practice of minority religions, and prosecute Buddhist ultranationalists who break the law in the name of religion,” he said.
Robertson went on to say that Myanmar authorities and police hardly ever confront Buddhist nationalists who incite violence against Muslims and other religious minorities in the Buddhist-majority country.
“In doing so, the government has failed to protect the rights to freedom of religion and education and provide basic security to all of its people,” he said.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.