Myanmar’s de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Friday that the government is exercising caution about whom to blame for deadly border guard attacks and subsequent violence in Rakhine state’s Maungdaw township, and pledged to conduct a thorough investigation in accordance with the law.
Security forces inundated Maungdaw after the Oct. 9 raids on three outposts near the Bangladesh border, in which nine officers died, to lock down the area and search for stolen weapons.
Local Rohingya Muslims have accused them of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, arson, and rape. Security forces also cut off access to aid workers and journalists. The government and military, however, have denied that soldiers committed the atrocities.
“We have been very careful not to blame anybody in particular unless we have complete evidence as to who has been responsible for what,” Aung San Suu Kyi said during a press conference in Japan where she is on a five-day official visit to drum up investment for Myanmar.
“All this will be made public as soon as we have gathered the evidence, and it will go through the due process of law,” she said.
Many Rohingya Muslims, a largely repressed ethnic minority group in Myanmar that suffers routine discrimination, live in the northern part of Rakhine where the attacks occurred.
Some government officials have previously blamed a militant Rohingya Muslim group that they say received training and financial support from Islamists abroad for the attacks.
Five government soldiers and more than 30 suspected insurgents were killed during the security sweep of the area following the border station attacks, and up to 15,000 people from Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities have been forced to flee their homes.
The military blockade of the area continues, though government officials have agreed to let aid workers and reporters back into the area to deliver food and other necessities to the estimated 15,000 who have been displaced by the violence.
Another border station attack
Meanwhile, United Nations envoy Renata Lok-Desallien and foreign ambassadors to Myanmar on Friday renewed their call for an “independent and credible investigation” of the violence that occurred. During a briefing with reporters in the commercial capital Yangon, they also called for restraint and transparency from the government during the investigation.
They urged the same on Thursday during a news conference in the Rakhine capital Sittwe following a two-day mission to the northern part of the state to observe the situation on the ground and talk to government authorities, villagers, security forces, and state parliamentarians.
The same day, unknown assailants attacked a border guard station, killing one officer and wounding another, according to a local news report.
Despite comments made by Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday in Japan that the Myanmar government has not tried to conceal information about claims of abuse by the military in Maungdaw, the Myanmar Times fired an investigative reporter who wrote about the alleged rapes of Muslim women by soldiers.
The English-language newspaper sacked reporter Fiona MacGregor because the “rape allegations story and ‘several’ other unidentified articles” she had written “breached company policy by damaging national reconciliation and the paper's reputation,” MacGregor wrote in a Facebook post.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay called her out on Oct. 28 on social media, accusing her of bias in her report of the previous day on the alleged military rapes.
“The Burmese government’s intimidation of journalists reached a new low in its campaign against Myanmar Times journalist Fiona MacGregor and her reporting on alleged sexual abuses by security forces in Rakhine state,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
“What are they trying to hide?” he asked. “Rather than trying to shut down reports that it doesn't like, the government should respect press freedom and permit journalists to do their jobs by investigating what is really happening on the ground.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.