Myanmar Government Ends Security Lockdown in Volatile Northern Rakhine State

By Roseanne Gerin
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Armed Myanmar border police walk by homes during a patrol in Maungni village, Maungdaw township, in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Oct. 15, 2016.
Armed Myanmar border police walk by homes during a patrol in Maungni village, Maungdaw township, in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Oct. 15, 2016.

The Myanmar military has ended its much criticized four-month security operation in troubled northern Rakhine state, imposed after deadly attacks on border guard posts, the government’s newly appointed national security advisor said Wednesday.

Thaung Tun, who was introduced to and met with more than 60 diplomats and representatives from United Nations agencies in Yangon, was appointed to support the government’s peace process, according to a statement issued by the State Counselor’s office. He will work with government ministries and departments to tackle the country’s security challenges, it said.

In an address, Thuang Tun said the security sweep of northern Rakhine, during which more than 1,000 people have died and more than 69,000 Rohingya Muslim residents have fled according to U.N. estimates, has ended.

“The situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilized,” he said, according to the government statement. “The clearance operations undertaken by the military have ceased, the curfew has been eased, and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace.”

Thuang Tun also said the government is committed to investigating recent allegations that security forces deployed after the attacks committed human rights abuses against Rohingya residents, and to finding a long-term solution to the region’s crisis.

Some of the Rohingya who fled to neighboring Bangladesh have accused army soldiers and police of murder, torture, rape, and arson, prompting the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to issue a report on Feb. 3 saying that the abuses indicate “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have also issued reports and statements describing violence against the Rohingya during the crackdown.

“There can be no excuse for excessive force, for abuses of fundamental human rights and basic criminality,” Thaung Tun said.

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian relief, our focus must now be on finding real, lasting solutions to the situation in Rakhine,” he said.

Myanmar security forces targeted the Rohingya after it was determined that Rohingya militants were behind the attacks last October on the border guard posts, during which nine policemen were killed.

Government will take action

Thuang Tun also said the government has shown that it will take action against those who have committed abuses as long as it is given clear evidence, echoing a statement by the home affairs ministry on Feb. 15 that security force members who have violated human rights would be charged under police disciplinary law.

A small group of police officers caught on video abusing Rohingya civilians in a village in Maungdaw township during the security operation early last November were recently sentenced to two months in prison.

Though the Myanmar government has denied allegations of widespread abuse, it set up an investigation commission in December to look into the violence in northern Rakhine.

In an interim report in January, the commission said it had found no evidence of genocide or religious persecution of Rohingya Muslims living in the region, and insufficient evidence of rape. It also said it was still probing accusations of arson, torture, and illegal arrests.

The commission completed another fact-finding mission this week in the affected areas to investigate the U.N.’s allegations of human rights violations.

Saw Thalay Saw, a commission member and lawmaker from Shwegyin in Bago region, told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday that Muslim villagers could not corroborate some of the accounts of abuse detailed in the U.N. report.

In the meantime, Myanmar’s police and military have also set up teams to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses by security forces.

In opening remarks at the meeting to introduce Thuang Tin to the diplomatic community on Wednesday, Kyaw Tint Swe, minister of the Office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, said national reconciliation and peace in Rakhine state is “crucial to peace and stability throughout the country.”

As Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi has been spearheading efforts to end decades of civil wars between the powerful government military and various ethnic armed groups through a series of peace talks known as the 21st-century Panglong Conference under the civilian-led government.

The initial summit was held in late August and early September 2016, and the next one will be held in March, the statement issued by the State Counselor’s Office said.

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