A Myanmar government investigation team has begun a probe into killings that occurred in western Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state when police opened fire on a crowd of protesters demonstrating against a government ban on a Buddhist celebration.
On Jan. 16, police shot dead seven ethnic Rakhine protesters and wounded 13 others after thousands of members of the minority group marking a nationalist Buddhist anniversary converged on a government office in the ancient town of Mrauk U when authorities attempted to stop the event.
Zaw Than Tint, the permanent secretary of the civilian government under the leadership of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, is heading up the investigation team, said Tin Maung Swe, secretary of Rakhine state’s government.
“The investigation will take from two day to 10 days,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The team members will meet and question local residents, government staff, and all others they think they should talk to.”
“We have heard that the union-level investigation team has begun the investigation,” said Tun Aung Kyaw, general secretary of the Arakan National Party (ANP), a political party representing the interests of ethnic Rakhine people in Rakhine state.
“It would be good if an independent team with legal experts and leaders from civil society groups can investigate the case because it is not enough to hear only the government’s or authorities’ side,” he told RFA. “We have to hear voices from both sides.”
“If an independent team investigates, then eyewitnesses can tell the team what they saw without fear [of retribution],” he said. “We hope this union-level team can determine the truth, because we believe that the state government and authorities didn’t exercise proper action.”
On Tuesday, state government police arrested eight ethnic Rakhine youths who are being treated in a ward for prisoners at the People’s Hospital in the state capital Sittwe for gunshot wounds they sustained during the crackdown.
Four others injured in the protest left the hospital in Mrauk U where they were being treated, fearing that police would arrest them, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Family members of those injured said they were not permitted to see their hospitalized relatives.
“Please send these people to the regular hospital ward,” said Aye Maung Thein, father of Oo Than Zaw who was injured in the incident. “They can take action against them according to the law when they recover. Their wives are suffering because their husbands were sent to the prisoners' ward, though they haven’t yet recovered.”
About 150 protesters gathered in Rakhine state’s Munaung township on Monday to demand the release of two ethnic Rakhine nationalists who were arrested and charged with incitement last week amid fallout from the deadly clash with police.
The Irrawaddy reported on Wednesday that local police are investigating five ethnic Rakhine men for violating the country’s Peaceful Assembly Law during a protest in front of a state government office a day after the Mrauk U crackdown.
The men accused police of using excessive force against protesters and demanded a transparent investigation, the report said.
A group of activists has applied for permission from authorities to hold a rally in Kyauk Taw township next week to condemn the police shootings in Mrauk U, the report said.
International rights groups and a group of 70 civil society organizations in Myanmar have issued calls for an independent investigation into the crackdown and the prosecution of police officers responsible for the killings.
On Jan. 18, Myanmar’s State Counselor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi also called for an investigation into the incident and assured that action would be taken against those found to have broken the law.
Reported by Kyaw Soe Lin, Khin Khin Ei, and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.