Fourteen political parties in Myanmar, including the main opposition party, urged the civilian government on Thursday to order martial law in the unstable northern area of Rakhine state where a series of disappearances and murders have struck fear in ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)—the country’s main opposition party, with a strong military background—and 13 others want de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s 15-month-old National League for Democracy (NLD) government to order military forces to step in because they believe that local civilian agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety.
“Just like in the Laukkai area [of volatile northern Shan state] recently, we want to see martial law in some areas of Rakhine state where it is necessary, where the civilian administration cannot do much to ensure security,” said Nay Min Kyaw, general secretary of the National Democratic Force Party (NDF), said.
Rakhine authorities have charged more than 500 local Muslims and deemed 1,300 others fugitives for their alleged involvement in deadly attacks last October on border patrolmen in the state’s three northern townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung. The attacks were blamed on an obscure group of militant Rohingya Muslims.
Despite the action, the area is far from secure, local say.
In June, Myanmar security forces killed three men while clearing a suspected Rohingya insurgent training camp in a mountain range in the Maungdaw-Buthidaung township area where tunnels, weapons, huts, rations, and training materiel were discovered during a two-day security clearance operation.
Several recent killings in the tri-township area, including two of ethnic Rakhine people, coupled with alarm about attacks by Rohingya Muslims, forced about 200 Rakhine Buddhists to flee Maungdaw last week. The move prompted troops in the area to be put on high alert and a state parliamentary official to call for increased security.
Though the 14 political parties commended the central government for using terms such as “terrorizing groups” and “extreme violence” in its news releases about the violence in northern Rakhine state, they believe that Naypyidaw is not exercising powers provided by existing laws in handling the situation, and instead is doing things which are not in conformity with the powers it has, Nay Min Kyaw said.
The political parties also urged the government not to accept an international fact-finding mission that the United Nations Human Rights Commission will send to Rakhine state to investigate atrocities that Myanmar’s army is said to have committed against Rohingya Muslims during a four-month security sweep of the northern townships following deadly attacks on border guard stations in October 2016.
Myanmar has disassociated itself from the U.N. resolution on the fact-finding mission, arguing that it is not in keeping with what was actually happening on the ground in northern Rakhine.
Aung San Suu Kyi has appointed a commission led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to examine the situation on the ground in Rakhine and propose ways to solve the sectarian tensions. The commission’s final report is due in August.
Residents hold public meeting
In a related development, about 200 people from Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships held a public meeting on Thursday to discuss security in the wake of the latest act of sectarian violence to rock the restive state.
On Tuesday, a Buddhist mob attacked and killed a Rohingya Muslim man and injured six others in the state capital Sittwe after the group became involved in an argument with a local businessman over a boat purchase.
The attack resonated with people in the three townships where a rising number of murders and disappearances have occurred amid growing fear about possible attacks by Rohingya Muslims, who constitute a majority of the population in the area.
Locals who attended the meeting called for tighter security in the area and discussed forming a militia to protect themselves from attacks by Muslims.
They also noted that the police have not made any arrests in the recent murders of two local ethnic Rakhine people.
“Rumors and threats are rife that more violence is coming, and the number of murders of locals is rising [so] we discussed the need for more security in the area,” said Maung Khin Win, vice-chairman of the Emergency Relief Committee, a local aid organization.
The residents also said foreign nongovernmental organizations and international assistance were not helping the problem, but rather making it worse.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.