Myanmar’s government on Tuesday sent a mission to the country’s turbulent western Rakhine state in a bid to restore peace and stability following raids on three border posts that left more than 20 people dead and prompted searches of homes of Muslim residents near the border with Bangladesh.
Nine border officers and eight assailants died in the attacks early Sunday in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships where many of the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority group live.
Two men who were captured during the raids confessed to having planned the attacks for more than three months with the help of local Muslims in Maungdaw, authorities said.
Some believe the attacks were carried out in response to state government plans to demolish mosques and other religious buildings constructed without permission in Maungdaw and neighboring Buthidaung townships.
The group of government officials, including Information Minister Pe Myint, Labor, Immigration and Population Minister Thein Swe, deputy minister for the Office of the State Counselor Khin Maung Tin, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Soe Aung, and deputy chief of the Myanmar Police Force Brig. Gen. Aung Win Oo, briefed residents in the Rakhine capital Sittwe on the current security situation following the attacks.
Nyi Pu, chief minister of Rakhine state, and other state government officials also participated in the conference.
“Rakhine state’s problem is Myanmar’s problem,” Pe Myint said.
“We aren’t dealing with this only as Rakhine’s problem, especially because the Rakhine problem is related to some neighboring countries and the international community,” he said. “We consider this problem a very important one.”
The government officials will spend four days meeting with local people and others in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships to clarify the situation so as to avoid public worry and panic, state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
Kyaw Zeya, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs met on Tuesday with Mohammad Sufiur Rahman, Bangladesh’s ambassador to Myanmar, to discuss border security cooperation and joint efforts to find the attackers.
‘Depressed and worried’
But residents in the three townships continue to live in fear.
Four Myanmar army soldiers were killed in Maungdaw on Tuesday during clashes with local forces who were presumably involved in the raids on the border posts, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported citing an anonymous high-ranking government official. RFA was unable to independently verify the report.
“Local residents from Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung are getting depressed and worried,” Maung Tha Sein, a community leader in Sittwe, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We have heard they are not able to sleep at night because of fear and have planned to move out of their towns and into the Sittwe area,” he said. “It is important that they heal their mental wounds.”
In the meantime, Nyi Pu said that authorities would take legal action against those involved in the attacks.
Five military helicopters with more security forces have been deployed in the area, and security forces in Myanmar and Bangladesh are looking to apprehend the insurgents who attacked border guards and stole guns and bullets, said Brigadier Gen. Hla Mying Soe of the Sittwe region military headquarters.
Soldiers were deployed in the area after the attacks occurred, and some streets were closed off as both soldiers and police searched Muslim villages for weapons and ammunition taken during the first border guard post raid.
Four Muslims were killed on Monday during a police search of a Muslim quarter in Maungdaw, residents had told RFA.
Fourteen Rohingya organizations in exile issued a statement the same day accusing government soldiers of killing not four, but seven unarmed residents of Myothugyi village, The Irrawaddy reported.
That same day, authorities closed 400 government-run schools in Maungdaw district, which comprises Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, and extended curfews there as well as in Rathedaung township.
The European Union issued a statement on Tuesday expressing sympathy to the families of those killed in the attacks.
The EU has called for a formal police investigation into the incident and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice according to the rule of law.
“In the meantime, we call on all parties to act responsibly, exercise restraint and let the investigation run its course,” the statement said. “The EU stands with Myanmar in these difficult moments.”
Religious and ethnic tensions run high in Rakhine where 1.1 million stateless Rohingya suffer persecution because they are considered illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
Communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 left 200 people dead and forced others into squalid internally displaced persons camps where they are denied basic rights, including that of citizenship.
Some authorities in Rakhine state believe local Muslims involved in the border post attacks have links to the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a militant group active in the 1980s and the 1990s, but which is believed to now be defunct.
But Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), a paramilitary force under the Ministry of Home Affairs, said on Monday that no members of the RSO or another extremist groups from Myanmar were inside Bangladesh.
In late August, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, appointed former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to chair an advisory panel on Rakhine state to review conflict resolution between Buddhists and Rohingya, humanitarian assistance, and development issues in the impoverished and divided state.
Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.