As international pressure intensifies for Myanmar to address accusations and evidence of deadly violence by the military against Rohingya Muslims in ravaged northern Rakhine state, the government said on Wednesday that it will allow diplomats to visit volatile Maungdaw township, the focal point of recent strife.
Rakhine state government secretary Tin Maung Swe said the diplomats will have one day to visit the area, though the places they will visit have not yet been announced.
“We will take them to as many places as we can visit and [to see] as much as the weather allows,” he said.
“We will take them to the places where Hindu, Mro, and Diangnet [people] were killed,” added Tin Maung Swe, in a reference to ethnic minority groups.
Earlier this week, Myanmar authorities unearthed the mutilated bodies of 45 Hindus dumped in mass graves near Maungdaw’s Yebaw Kya village in the wake of a late August attack on police outposts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Muslim militant group.
Myanmar soldiers are still searching for about 50 others who are still missing and feared dead, officials said.
ARSA conducted deadly attacks on police outposts on Aug. 25 and on border guard stations in northern Rakhine in Oct. 2016.
Local Hindus and the Myanmar government have said that ARSA militants detained nearly 100 people from several Hindu villages in Kha Maung Seik village tract on Aug. 25, killed most of them, and dumped their corpses in four mass graves.
They also forced some of the young women to convert to Islam, the government said, citing testimony from Ni Maul, a Hindu social worker and local community leader.
Myanmar’s military has granted more than 30 reporters from select domestic and international news organizations, including RFA’s Myanmar Service, limited access to the pits where the Hindus’ decomposed bodies, some of which were decapitated, were found on Sept. 24-25.
The reporters, who also came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse, European Pressphoto Agency, Democratic Voice of Burma, and Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group, interviewed the family members of the 45 Hindus who were killed, border guard police officials, and a village administrator.
However, they were not allowed to visit Yebaw Kya village where the bodies were found.
Rights groups, nongovernmental organizations, and the United Nations have accused the Myanmar military of committing crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine amid numerous reports by Rohingya of security forces indiscriminately killing civilians, burning villages, torturing people, and raping girls and women during two crackdowns following ARSA attacks in August and last October.
The government has denied most of the reports, charging that Rohingya militants set villages ablaze and killed civilians.
AFP news agency reported that representatives of U.N. agencies will be permitted to visit Rakhine state on Thursday for the first time since the start of a mass exodus of minority Rohingya Muslims.
“There will be a trip organized by the government, probably tomorrow, to Rakhine,” AFP quoted U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric as saying.
“We hope above all that it is a first step toward much freer and wider access to the area,” he said at his daily news briefing on Wednesday.
Sanctions and condemnation
The decisions to allow diplomats and journalists into the region came amid calls by London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch for the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on the Myanmar military because of what they called crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya.
The 15-member Security Council issued a statement on Sept. 13 expressing “concern about reports of excessive violence during the security operations and calling for immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, deescalate the situation, reestablish law and order, [and] ensure the protection of civilians.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has called for an end to all military operations in Rakhine, will brief the Security Council about the violence in Myanmar on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a strongly-worded statement on Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis to the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific that the perpetrators of “this ethnic cleansing” must be condemned and held accountable for their actions.
“The government of Burma cannot be allowed to blatantly and cruelly mistreat Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups,” Royce said. “The United States must prioritize the Rohingya and the protection of human rights in its relations with Burma. And we should use the tools at our disposal to help put a stop to the violence.”
On Tuesday, Yu Lwin Aung, a member of Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission who was in Maungdaw to see the mass graves, said Bangladesh authorities had arrested six people suspected of involvement in the slayings, based on information provided by a Hindu detainee who had hidden her cell phone in her underwear.
However, Bangladesh authorities denied the arrests.
“No, we haven’t arrested anyone in connection to the discovery of mass graves of Hindus in Rakhine," said Iqbal Hossain, police superintendent for the country’s southeastern Cox’s Bazar district.
“No, it’s not true,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. “We haven’t arrested anyone.”
More than 500 of the 5,000 Hindus living in Maungdaw have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, said Ni Maul, who is working with government authorities who found the bodies.
Only those who live in Kyeinchaung and Ngakhuya villages remained behind, while nine other Hindu villages were burned, forcing their inhabitants to flee, he said.
“The authorities have given priority to find missing Hindu people rather than bringing back those who fled to Bangladesh,” he told RFA.
Ni Maul also said that the Hindus have lived in Maungdaw for a long time, but never experienced any problems with other ethnic groups.
“I don’t know why these Muslim terrorists did this to us, but for sure, our Hindu people have been killed by them, and we have seen with our own eyes what they did to us,” he said.
“Actually, not just to us,” he said. “These Muslim terrorists even killed some Muslims who had contact with Myanmar government authorities.”
There is no doubt that terrorists from other countries are living in Rakhine and that some local residents were assisting them in their villages, Ni Maul said.
“We will go back to our villages only if the government provides proper security,” he said. “If not, we don’t dare to go back home.’
A Hindu organization in Bangladesh is providing food and shelter to the Hindus who fled from their homes in northern Rakhine state, Yu Lwin Aung said.
The more than 460,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh from northern Rakhine during the military offensive that followed ARSA’s August attack are another story.
Bangladesh is now struggling to accommodate the latest Rohingya influx in existing refugee camps in the country’s southeast where another 400,000 Rohingya already live.
Bangladesh has accused Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya and called on it to resolve the refugee crisis.
Win Myat Aye, minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement, told reporters on Wednesday at a meeting on the Rakhine crisis in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw that the government will build two repatriation camps for refugees in Bangladesh who have fled from northern Rakhine.
He said that the government will take back the refugees according to an agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh in 1993 at a cost of more than 20 billion kyats (U.S. 14.5 million).
“We will give priority to working on the nationality verification process, and have prepared to do so,” Win Myat Aye said, referring to the country’s long-stalled citizenship verification process for stateless Rohingya Muslims who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“We will build a repatriation camp in Taungpyo Letwe village and another one in Ngakhuya village,” he said.
Meanwhile, to ease tensions with Bangladesh, a three-member team from Myanmar’s central government will arrive in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Oct. 1 for a three-day visit, according to a Bangladesh foreign ministry letter seen by BenarNews.
The visit will be the first by a Myanmar delegation since the Rohingya crisis started on Aug. 25.
The letter said Kyaw Tint Swe, minister for the office of Myanmar’s de facto leader and state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, will lead the delegation, which also will include two foreign affairs ministry officials.
Officials involved in the matter said the Myanmar team was coming on an invitation from Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood during an earlier visit to Myanmar.
Reported by Min Thein Aung, Win Ko Ko Latt, and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.