Myanmar security forces in volatile Rakhine state have detained nearly 60 new suspected militants in Maungdaw township amid a continued security crackdown that began in early October after deadly attacks on border guard posts, a government spokesman said Thursday.
Zaw Htay, spokesperson of the President’s Office, said on his Facebook page that 59 people were detained at two border guard posts in the township near the Bangladesh border. This brings the total number of those detained to almost 300.
One sick detainee is receiving medical treatment, he said.
Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the government on Thursday to allow rights monitors and independent journalists access to the area to investigate reports of security forces killing civilians, torching houses, and raping women in villages in the predominantly Muslim township.
The group also took issue with Zaw Htay’s pronouncement on Wednesday that its report that satellite imagery indicated 430 buildings in Maungdaw had been destroyed by fire was erroneous.
Zaw Htay said aerial images taken from a military helicopter showed that only 155 buildings had been burned by militant in three villages.
“The army’s use of oblique angle photographs taken from helicopters to assess the extent of the destruction is flawed and inadequate,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, in a news release.
“Very high resolution satellite imagery recorded both before and after the attacks provide a more accurate picture of the damage that has occurred over the past month,” he said. “But even this limited amount of information shows the urgent need for free access for impartial investigations by human rights organizations, and the media.”
A step towards the truth
HRW also noted that Zaw Htay said the government would allow nonstate media access to Maungdaw, but did not specify a time frame. So far only state media have been able to enter the conflict area.
“The Burmese government’s confirmation of widespread fire damage in northern Rakhine state and offer to allow media access is a step toward getting at the truth of what happened,” Adams said. “But this is long overdue. Prompt and unhindered access to affected areas for independent investigations by the media and human rights organizations is crucial.”
Coordinated attacks on three border guard posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships on Oct. 9 left nine officers dead and led to clashes between security forces and armed groups of men in the following days.
Myanmar state media have reported that 102 suspected Rohingya attackers and 32 security forces have been killed since Oct. 9.
Myanmar officials have blamed the violence on a militant group of Rohingya Muslims, a largely repressed ethnic minority group in Myanmar that suffers routine discrimination in the Buddhist-majority country and lives in the northern part of Rakhine where the violence has occurred.
About 120,000 Rohingya have been forced to live in refugee camps in the state, and are denied access to basic services such as health care and education.
Attempts to leave
The violence has forced hundreds of Rohingya to flee their homes and attempt to cross the border into Bangladesh, which has turned them back.
The Washington-based rights group Refugees International issued a report on Wednesday on Rohingya who have already fled violence and persecution in Rakhine and sought refuge in Malaysia and Thailand in 2015. The group said they continue to face abuse by human traffickers, the threat of detention, and restricted human rights.
The worsening situation in the northern part of Rakhine state over the past five weeks “shows all too clearly that the root causes behind the flight of the Rohingya have not been addressed,” Refugees International’s statement said.
“The possibility of another boat crisis remains real, but whether international reaction will be different remains unclear,” it said, calling on the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the governments of Malaysia, Thailand, and the U.S. to take action.
Despite pledging to open up Maungdaw to non-state media, the Myanmar government continues to take action to contain news about the Rakhine situation and the plight of the Rohingya.
On Wednesday, it formed a special information committee of seven officials from various ministries to release real-time news about the volatile situation in an apparent move to counter damning reports by outside groups.
It then blacklisted award-winning U.S. documentary photographer Greg Constantine and prevented him from attending an exhibition of his own photos about stateless people, which includes Rohingya who live in displaced persons’ camps in Rakhine state, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.