Rakhine Officials Fail to Show up to Discuss Lawmakers’ Report on Myanmar’s Maungdaw

myanmar-gwazon-village-maungdaw-destroyed-dec12-2016.jpg A view of the burned remains of Gwazon, a Muslim-majority village in Maungdaw township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Dec. 12, 2016.
Myanmar State Counselor's Office/AFP

Myanmar’s Rakhine state parliament criticized state government leaders on Wednesday for not showing up to discuss an investigation commission’s report on deadly border guard station attacks in October and subsequent violence in the northern part of the state.

The state-level investigation commission submitted a report to Rakhine lawmakers on Tuesday, saying that the October attack and ensuing clashes were planned by Muslim militants who wanted to occupy Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung townships, where many of the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority group live.

The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has blamed the attacks on local Rohingya Muslims.

The commission’s report was recorded on Wednesday at the Rakhine state parliament, where state-level officials were to discuss its findings during a meeting, but no one showed up, lawmakers said.

Legislator Tun Thar Sein suggested that the state parliament extend the commission’s term slated to end on Friday in order for officials to have a more thorough report before making any decisions about the situation.

Maung Ohn, a lawmaker from Maungdaw township, pointed out that most staffers who work in local offices of the United Nations or international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) are Rohingya Muslims.

“Most staffers in the U.N. or INGOs are Bengalis,” he said, using a derogatory name for the Rohingya who are generally believed to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and are routinely discriminated against in Myanmar.

“The U.N. and INGOs get daily news updates from their Muslim staffers, so we need to think about these [organizations],” he said in an implicit suggestion that employees could be spreading falsehoods that reflect unfavorably on security forces that have areas under lockdown.

Some of the tens of thousands of Rohingya that fled their villages after security forces swept in have accused soldiers of committing atrocities against members of the Muslim community. The government has denied the accusations.

The commission’s report also called for tighter security at schools and in ethnic Rakhine villages where Buddhists live, as well as along security patrol routes beside the Naf River which separates Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“We need to work hard to have stability again in the Maungdaw area,” said state lawmaker Aung Win, who chairs the 11-member investigation commission formed by the Rakhine state parliament on Oct. 24.

Warning against food flotilla

Meanwhile, a Myanmar government spokesperson warned Malaysia on Wednesday about a Muslim organization that intends to send a “food flotilla” of aid to Rohingya Muslims displaced by violence in northern Rakhine state.

“We don’t have any information that a Malaysian Islamic organization requested or asked for permission from the Myanmar embassy in Malaysia or from the Myanmar government to do this,” said Zaw Htay, spokesman of the President Office.

“So our question for this Islamic organization is ‘Can any organization do what it wants in other country’s territory without legal permission?’” he asked. “The Malaysian government or any government will not accept it if we [Myanmar] do the same thing in their countries.”

Zaw Htay said that those in charge of the operation can get permission to help out in northern Rakhine when they arrive.

But he also warned that the government will not accept any food if the flotilla enters the country’s waters illegally, and did not rule out the possibility of an attack on the boats.

The Muslim aid flotilla, which is due to set sail from Port Klang on Jan. 10, will deliver nearly 200 metric tons of rice, medical aid, and essential supplies to Rohingya communities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, according to Malaysian media. It is expected to return to Malaysia about two weeks later.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman of Malaysia, whose leaders have been critical of Myanmar’s handling of the Rakhine dispute, called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Dec. 19 to coordinate humanitarian efforts to assist people uprooted by violence in Rakhine state as well as establish an independent body to probe allegations of human rights abuses in the area.

Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia, irked officials in Myanmar after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak participated in a protest rally in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 4 during which he called on the United Nations to end “ethnic cleansing” targeting Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

By Min Thein Aung, Kyaw Thu, and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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