Myanmar government ministers met Buddhist monk leaders on Monday to discuss the deteriorating security situation in volatile Rakhine state and efforts to ensure the safety of the ethnic Rakhine people who live there.
During a meeting with 11 top Buddhist monks from the administrative capital Sittwe, border affairs minister Lieutenant General Ye Aung said the government will ensure security in the northern part of the state where forces conducted a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims following deadly attacks on border guard posts in October 2016.
Buddhist monks and ethnic Rakhine people protested in 15 towns in Rakhine state on Sunday, calling on the government to resolve the security situation and demanding that aid agencies they accuse of providing support to Rohingya militants leave the region.
The military will use armored cars and helicopters in its operation against militants in northern Rakhine state, Ye Aung said.
The meeting came four days after the Myanmar government dispatched hundreds of soldiers from an army battalion to Rakhine to increase security in the region where several brutal killings of Muslim and ethnic Rakhine residents have occurred since the crackdown in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships.
In recent weeks, villagers and patrolmen have discovered camps thought to be used by Muslim “terrorists” along the Mayu mountain range in the Maungdaw-Buthidaung township area.
The Myanmar army has ordered villagers in the area to stay away from the mountain range as they conduct clearance operations in Maungdaw township, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported on Monday.
Ye Aung also said that discussions on the implementation of the 1982 Citizenship Law in the region were in progress.
Earlier this month, the Rakhine state government asked the central government to speed up the citizenship examination process for the Rohingya in accordance with law, which effectively renders them stateless by prohibiting them from holding Myanmar citizenship.
The policy also denies the Rohingya — who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh though many have lived in Myanmar for generations — basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.
About 1.1 million Rohingya live in Rakhine state, 20,000 of whom reside in internally displaced persons camps in Rakhine where they were placed following deadly communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.
An estimated 90,000 Rohingya fled the area during the October 2016 crackdown, some of whom have accused security forces of committing atrocities against them.
Ye Aung also said the government will provide a year’s supply of food rations to villagers within the security operation’s perimeters and asked the monks to help ensure that local residents do not wander into the mountains and forests where they risk abduction or murder by militants.
Myanmar’s minister of immigration, social welfare, health, and education also attended the meeting in Sittwe.
‘Cause for major concern’
Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, expressed concern on Friday about the dispatch of the army battalion to northern Rakhine, according to a statement issued by the U.N.’s human rights agency (OHCHR) on Aug. 11.
“This development, which reportedly took place yesterday, is a cause for major concern,” she said in the statement. “The government must ensure that security forces exercise restraint in all circumstances and respect human rights in addressing the security situation in Rakhine state.”
“I am particularly reminded of the allegations of serious human rights violations which followed security force operations in the aftermath of attacks against three border guard police facilities in Maungdaw and Rathedaung in October and further clashes in November,” she said.
Security forces have been accused of indiscriminate killings, rape, and arson in Rohingya communities during the four-month crackdown, though the Myanmar government has denied most of the allegations and has refused to grant visas to members of a U.N. commission tasked with investigating the matter.
Fighting in northern Shan state
Meanwhile, instability continued to grip Myanmar’s northern Shan state where new fighting between two rival ethnic armed groups near villages in Moekaung township forced more than 1,000 people to flee to the town of Namtu, spokesmen from both sides said.
The Restoration Council for Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) troops clashed three times on Sunday and Monday in Namhsan and Kyaukme townships, they said.
Lieutenant Colonel Sai Meng, spokesman for the RCSS/SSA, said there were casualties on both sides, but did not provide further details.
“There were three clashes between noon yesterday and 4 p.m. today at Kai Tai, Gonang, and Kho Inn,” he said. “There were some injured, I heard, but we don’t have any contact with the ground forces. We were trying to set up a base camp in Kai Tai when the firefight started.”
TNLA spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mai Aik Kyaw said fighting took place near the border of the two townships.
“Burmese Army Division 77 came into our territory this month and took advantage of the situation in which the RCSS/SSA entered our territory,” he said.
“We have no casualties, but they did have some,” he said, without providing further details.
“If they don’t come onto our land, there won’t be any fighting,” Mai Aik Kyaw said of the RCSS/SSA-S.
TNLA battalion 434 has engaged in hostilities with the national army’s Light Infantry Division 77 since earlier this month in the Palaung self-administered zone — an area in Shan state overseen by the ethnic Palaung, or Ta’ang, people.
The rebel army has been fighting the government military and the RCSS/SSA-S since late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) between the government and eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.
The TNLA was excluded from signing the accord because of its ongoing hostilities with Myanmar's armed forces.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.