Following international pressure, the Myanmar government has launched an investigation into the latest violence in Rakhine state in which the United Nations said at least 48 Muslims have been killed.
But no foreign groups will be included in the probe team as requested by the U.N., United States, and human rights groups following the reported killings by Buddhist mobs in Du Chee Yar Tan village in Maungdaw township earlier this month, according to local media.
Rakhine is home to the minority Muslim Rohingyas, most of whom are regarded as illegal immigrants and have borne the brunt of the violence since it erupted in 2012, leaving more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless.
The Myanmar government has rejected the U.N. account of the incidents in Maungdaw, saying it was based on “false reporting.”
Speaking at a briefing in Yangon on Tuesday, Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin said the team that would investigate the circumstances that led to the Maungdaw violence would include representatives from three government-appointed bodies—the Central Committee for Rakhine State Peace, Stability and Development Implementation; the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission; and the Rakhine Conflict Investigation Commission, the state-owned New Light of Myanmar reported.
It added that the government would, however, arrange for foreign diplomats, including a team led by the European Union ambassador, to travel to Maungdaw to look into the issue.
U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell on Wednesday reiterated calls for the government of Myanmar to allow an international representative to take part in the investigation.
“What I would ask for them is, if possible, to have an international representative—a credible person from the international community who can take part and assist in that process and therefore reassure people on the ground in Rakhine and the international community that it’s not simply the government investigating the incident,” he said.
Wunna Maung Lwin said the three groups in the probe team would hold separate investigations into the killings, which reportedly occurred in two incidents between Jan. 9 and 13.
Reports of violence
In the first incident on Jan. 9, eight Rohingya Muslim men were attacked and killed by local ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said last week, citing what she called "credible" information.
This was followed by what she said was a clash four days later in which a police sergeant was captured and killed by the Rohingya villagers, she said.
Following this, on the evening of Jan. 13, at least 40 Rohingya Muslim men, women, and children were killed in Du Chee Yar Tan village by police and local Rakhines, she said in a statement, adding that information gathered by the U.N. has already been shared with the Myanmar government.
Aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), among a few outside groups allowed to operate in the region, said last week that it had treated at least 22 patients with injuries believed to have resulted from violence in the village.
The organization said it was concerned that more victims could need medical treatment and urged the government to allow access to the area.
Thailand-based rights group Fortify Rights said that it had spoken to witnesses and other sources who confirmed the killings, believed to be the deadliest incident in Rakhine state since 2012, when two rounds of violence between local Rakhines and Rohingyas sparked religious unrest that has since spread across the country, leaving some 250 people dead.
Myanmar's government considers most of the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in the country to be illegal immigrants, although many of them have lived in the country for decades. The U.N. has referred to the group as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Myanmar President Thein Sein visited Rakhine state in October last year, calling on Buddhists and Muslims to sink their differences and prevent further bloodshed, as rights groups warned that the unending sectarian strife could dampen his reform program, which has earned praise across the globe and resulted in the lifting of long-running international sanctions imposed during the previous military junta rule.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.