UPDATED at 10:17 A.M. EDT on 2018-06-28
Myanmar political analysts said on Monday that the military’s dismissal of two generals involved in the brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims is a positive move, but that it may not be enough to placate the international community, which has sanctioned more soldiers and sharply criticized the country’s civilian leadership for echoing military denials of widespread atrocities in Rakhine state.
Major General Maung Maung Soe, former head of the Myanmar Army’s Western Command during a military operation in northern Rakhine state, has been fired for failing in his duty to control the violence during the period between two attacks by the Muslim militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on Oct. 9, 2016, and Aug. 25, 2017.
Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw, former commander of the Bureau of Special Operations No. 3, also seen as responsible for part of the violence, was transferred to other post, but instead the army honored his request to resign because of a health condition, the statement said.
The office of military commander-in-chief Ming Aung Hlaing issued a statement about their dismissals the same day that the European Union and Canada imposed sanctions on those two generals and five other army and border police officials. Maung Maung Soe was also sanctioned by the United States in December.
Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader in Myanmar and a member of the government’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by former United nations chief Kofi Annan, said the move is a positive one.
“Something happened in Rakhine, and action was taken against those who were responsible,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday. “I see it as a good sign. It shows the international community that Myanmar has been taking action and investigating people responsible for violating human rights during the Rakhine violence.”
Myanmar political analyst Yan Myo Thein also said he welcomed the dismissals of the two generals.
“I think it is the first step in efforts to regain the trust and support of the international community,” he said.
Despite mountains of evidence that security forces committed atrocities against the Rohingya during the crackdown, the Myanmar government and military have largely denied that soldiers were involved in the brutality and have justified the crackdown as a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against terrorists in the region.
But political activist and writer Than Soe Naing said the international community would rather see those responsible for the violence against Rohingya civilians brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“I don’t think this action against the two top generals is the one that international community wants,” he said. “It wants to prosecute the very top generals, including the commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, at the ICC.”
The European Union and Canada on Monday imposed sanctions on senior military officials in Myanmar deemed responsible for human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine, where the brutal military campaign last year forced nearly 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh.
The E.U. froze the assets of the seven Myanmar army, border guard, and police officials and banned them from traveling to the bloc.
In a detailed breakdown published by the E.U., the seven senior military and police officers subject to sanctions were identified as being “responsible for the atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population” in their respective theaters or throughout Rakhine.
“These include unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic burning of Rohingya houses and buildings,” the E.U. document said.
“The European Union and Canada imposed sanctions on seven senior military officials who were involved in the Rakhine violence, and the Myanmar military seems to have anticipated this,” Than Soe Naing said. “But I don’t think this will be the end of it. There will be more pressure from the international community.”
State Counselor Aung San Suu Ki has a responsibility to work on the resolution of the Rakhine crisis because she is the one who must deal with the international community, especially now when some countries and rights groups have called for Myanmar to appear before the ICC, he said.
In April, an ICC prosecutor asked the international tribunal’s judges to rule on whether the court can exercise jurisdiction over the “alleged deportation” of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Myanmar has argued that the ICC cannot prosecute the country because it is not a member of the court.
Nevertheless, the ICC has set a deadline of July 27 for Myanmar to submit a written response on the matter.
Though Myanmar has agreed to take back Rohingya refugees who want to return to Rakhine state and whose prior residency in the region can be verified, pressure from the international community has continued to grow with the U.N. and rights groups pushing officials to guarantee safe conditions for the returnees.
Although they are languishing in sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh, few Rohingya appear to trust the Myanmar government enough to go back to their villages, many of which are burned out.
Red Cross chief’s visit
Meanwhile, Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has begun a three-day visit to Rakhine’s Muangdaw and Buthidaung townships, which were the focal points of the crackdown along with neighboring Rathedaung township.
“I expect with each trip we can assist and protect in a more meaningful way the population affected by the violence this time,” he told reporters at the airport in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe before flying to the northern part of the state.
Maurer visited an ICRC mobile clinic in Maungdaw and will tour villages where the organization has provided basic assistance to those affected by violence in the region, according to a statement issued by the ICRC on Tuesday.
He will also meet with representatives from local civil society organizations in Rakhine and residents affected by the violence.
Violence has still not abated in Maungdaw, with a fisherman shot by a military patrol in Kainggyi village on Tuesday, an eyewitness who declined to be named told RFA.
“A man about 70 years old and his 30 year-old son were shot at by soldiers while they were fishing,” he said. “The father was injured in his thigh. He was taken away by the military, which said he was wrongfully shot. The military will give him medical treatment and take care of him.”
A military vehicle transported the man, who was not critically injured, to a hospital in Buthidaung, he said.
When RFA contacted Maung Than Cho, the head of Kainggyi village, he confirmed that a man had been shot, but refused to provide any details.
The men were fishing in a creek that is off-limits to the public because of its proximity to the Bay of Bengal through which, authorities say, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Muslim terrorists could enter Myanmar, the online journal The Irrawaddy later reported.
Reported by Thinn Thiri and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.