Myanmar’s Rakhine state government will convene an emergency meeting to form an inquiry committee consisting of nine members, including six state lawmakers, to investigate the killings that occurred during a police crackdown in the ancient town of Mrauk U, a local legislator said Friday.
On Jan. 16, police shot dead seven ethnic Rakhine protesters and wounded a dozen others after thousands of members of the minority group marking a nationalist Buddhist anniversary converged on a government office in the ancient town of Mrauk U when authorities attempted to stop the event.
“We will hold an emergency meeting on Jan. 29 because MP [member of parliament] Kyaw Win of Mrauk U constituency 2 has proposed of forming an inquiry committee to investigate the killings,” said Rakhine state parliamentarian Tun Thar Sein, a member of the Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents the interests of ethnic Rakhine people in the state.
A national government investigation team led by Zaw Than Tint, permanent secretary of the civilian government, traveled to Mrauk U on Wednesday to investigate the killings.
International rights groups, the United Nations in Myanmar, and a group of 70 civil society organizations in the country have issued calls for an independent investigation into the crackdown and the prosecution of police officers responsible for the killings.
Volatile Rakhine state is still reeling from a military crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in its three northern townships that has driven an estimated 688,000 members of the minority group to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017.
Some Rohingya and rights groups have accused the military of committing indiscriminate killings, torture, rape, and arson in their villages in Maungdaw, Buithdaung, and Rathedaung townships in what the United Nations and United States have said amount to a campaign of ethnic cleansing — a charge that Myanmar denies.
ANP provides legal assistance
In a related development, the ANP on Thursday formed a legal assistance committee with six attorneys to help those arrested during the Mrauk U crackdown and during the nationalist Buddhist event in Rathedaung township.
The six lawyers on the committee are Kyaw Than, Thar Win, Aye Nu Sein, Tin Nyo, Tun Aung Kyaw, and ANP member advocate Ba Shein, who also serves as the party’s general secretary.
The committee will provide legal assistance to eight ethnic Rakhine youths who were arrested by state government police on Tuesday and are being treated in a ward for prisoners at the People’s Hospital in the state capital Sittwe for gunshot wounds they sustained during the Mrauk U crackdown.
The lawyers will also help Rakhine nationalist politician Aye Maung, a former ANP leader who currently represents Rakhine’s Ann township constituency in the lower house of parliament, and writer and civil society leader Way Hin Aung, both of whom were taken into custody after giving speeches at the memorial gathering.
The annual event celebrates the anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine Dynasty following the invasion of Burmese forces in 1784.
In their speeches, Aye Maung and Way Hin Aung demanded greater sovereignty for the ethnic Rakhine community in the state and called for revolt against Myanmar’s ethnic majority Bamar-led government.
Rathedaung township authorities have filed a charges against Aye Maung’s under section 17(1) of Unlawful Associations Act and Sections 121 and 505 of the Penal Code, which relate to high treason and incitement, according to local media reports.
They also filed public mischief charges against Wai Hin Aung under the Penal Code.
The two, who are being detained in Sittwe prison, are scheduled to appear in court Jan. 31, the Myanmar news service Mizzima reported.
“We will help the detainees who can’t afford to hire lawyers,” Tun Aung Kyaw said. “We will advise them about what they need to do.”
The government banned the annual celebration because the venue was a former palace that had been listed as a national heritage site, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported on Monday.
A draft nomination to include Mrauk U, Rakhine state’s ancient capital and an important archaeological site with hundreds of historic temples, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is slated to be submitted in September with the final submission due next January, the report said.
Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint and Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.