Foreign Envoys Tour Refugee Repatriation Centers in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

2018-02-06
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Thaung Tun (2nd from L), Myanmar's national security advisor and minister of the Office of the Union Government, leads foreign envoys on a tour of Rohingya refugee repatriation centers in Maungdaw township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Feb. 6, 2018.
Thaung Tun (2nd from L), Myanmar's national security advisor and minister of the Office of the Union Government, leads foreign envoys on a tour of Rohingya refugee repatriation centers in Maungdaw township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Feb. 6, 2018.
RFA

A group of foreign envoys visited Rohingya repatriation centers in Myanmar’s troubled Maungdaw township on Tuesday, which local officials say are ready to handle returning refugees from neighboring Bangladesh, a local official said.

Thaung Tun, Myanmar’s national security advisor and minister of the recently created Office of the Union Government, led a delegation of diplomats from China, India, and Singapore to the reception centers in Maungdaw’s Taung Pho Letwe, Nga Khu Ya, and Hla Pho Khaung villages in northern Rakhine state.

Representatives and officials from the Bangladeshi embassy in Myanmar also toured the facilities.

“They have visited the camps to see the preparations for repatriation,” said Ye Htoo, deputy administrator of Maungdaw. “They will visit three repatriation centers during the one-day trip.”

Maungdaw, along with adjacent Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships, was the epicenter of a brutal crackdown by Myanmar forces targeting Rohingya communities that began in August 2017.

Since then, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled to safety across the border to Bangladesh where they are living in squalid displaced persons camps.

Though some have reported widespread atrocities against their communities, including killings, rapes, and arson, the Myanmar government has denied the accusations.

In the meantime, Rohingya villagers continue to leave Rakhine for Bangladesh as the region continues to reel from the fallout of the violence.

Last week, the Myanmar government rejected reports of a massacre of local Rohingya whose bodies were dumped into at least five mass graves in Buthidaung township’s Gu Dar Pyin village, saying an investigation had found no evidence to support the claims.

In the meantime, a voluntary refugee repatriation program hammered out between Myanmar and Bangladeshi officials in November 2017 has been held up by paperwork processing delays.

Myanmar officials, however, have insisted that facilities and personnel are in place to handle returning refugees, and that Bangladesh is responsible for delays in the repatriation process which were scheduled to begin in late January.

Accusations against Arakan Army

Other parts of ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine state remain mired in violence and turmoil, including the ancient town of Mrauk U where the murder of a former township administrator is under investigation.

Bo Bo Min Theik, 37, was found dead on Jan. 30 with multiple stab wounds to his chest in a car near a roadway that passes through Rakhine’s Ponnagyun township.

He had been transferred to another post in the state capital Sittwe amid public condemnation three days after local government officials ordered a violent crackdown on a protesters on Jan. 16, during which police shot dead seven people and wounded a dozen others.

On Monday, Myanmar’s Ministry of Home Affairs said the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed group that has been engaged in fighting with the national army, was responsible for the murder committed in retaliation for Bo Bo Min Theik’s role in blocking events to mark the anniversary of an ethnic Rakhine anniversary.

The ministry’s announcement said that suspects detained for the murder had bought and provided weapons for the AA.

Last week, Myanmar authorities arrested and interrogated Kyaw Myint, former administrator of Mrauk U’s Tein Nyo village, his wife, son, and daughter-in-law in the commercial capital Yangon.

During the interrogation, Kyaw Myint, also known as Khaing Kyaw, confessed to plotting with four others — three of whom are said to be organizers for the AA — to kill Bo Bo Min Theik as he traveled to Sittwe, a statement issued by the ministry said.

Three of the men allegedly stabbed him to death when a struggle occurred after the men tried to take away his mobile phone, according to a report by state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday.

The investigation also revealed that Kyaw Myint and his son had transported illegal drugs from eastern Myanmar’s Shan state to Buthidaung and Maungtaw townships where they were sold, with the income from the drug trading allegedly spent on buying arms for the AA, the report said.

Police are still pursuing others who are suspected of being involved in the killing, it said.

‘No connection with this murder’

AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied the group’s involvement in the crime and told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the ministry has not informed the ethnic militia about the case, and that its soldiers do not use the M-16 assault rifles that were mentioned in the ministry's statement.

“Whenever we have a problem in the country, the [Myanmar] military always accuses [ethnic] armed groups just as it has done this time,” he said. “We have no connection with this murder. The ministry has just made up a story to destroy the AA’s image.”

Khine Thukha also noted that the ministry’s announcement mentioned drug cases in Rakhine state, which he said have always led in the past to military leaders.

“What we see on the drug cases is that military leaders have tried to cover their involvement by accusing armed groups [of drug-related activity],” he said.

“If the government really wants the rule of law, it has to apply the law equally,” he said. “If it applies the law differently between Burmese and non-Burmese, the word ‘ethnic unity’ will only be a concept written on paper.”

The AA, which formed in 2009 to protect the interests of the local ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, the AA has been engaged in hostilities for years with the government army, including in a long-running conflict in northern Myanmar's Kachin State.

The ethnic militia was excluded from the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) signed by eight of the country’s 20-some armed ethnic groups in October 2015.

Reported by Min Thein Aung, Wai Mar Tun, and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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