Authorities in Burma have arrested a monk who tried to smuggle eight Rohingya Muslims disguised in Buddhist robes to Rangoon from troubled Rakhine state, official sources said.
The eight Rohingyas as well as their driver were also being held by police in Aunn township—also in Rakhine—last Friday after they attempted to make their way in a van to Burma’s largest city dressed as Buddhist monks, a local police officer told RFA’s Burmese Service on Monday.
“This act is a disgrace to the religion,” he said.
The government does not allow the stateless Rohingyas to travel between townships without special permission or paying substantial bribes to state security forces, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.
The Buddhist monk, named U Kawthiya from the Zabuaye Monastery in Mon state’s Kyaikto township, and the van driver have been charged with smuggling the Rohingyas and with religious crimes for helping the men impersonate members of the Buddhist clergy.
The Rohingyas are from Ale-Kyune and Khaung Tote villages in Rakhine’s Kyauktaw township.
“The monk and a driver who were taking those Bengalis to Rangoon will be charged under Illegal Smuggling Act 367 and Religious Crime Act 295,” the police officer said, using the local term for Muslim Rohingya residents who are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though they have long lived in Burma.
The officer said that the eight Rohingyas would be charged with attempting to illegally travel outside of Rakhine state without proper documentation.
“The eight Bengalis who pretended to be Buddhist monks will be charged under Immigration Acts 62 and 63,” he said, adding that authorities planned to send all 10 men to a prison in Rakhine state’s Sittwe city.
Authorities were unable to provide details of why the men had attempted to leave Rakhine state, which was beset by deadly violence last year, leaving scores dead and more than 100,000—mostly Rohingyas—displaced.
Rakhine state immigration officer Kyaw Yin Ho said that authorities are still investigating the Rohingyas’ motives.
“I don’t know the details yet. All I heard is that a Buddhist monk made those Bengalis look like monks and transported them, but I still don’t know where they were coming from or going to,” he said, adding that he had not yet read statements the men had given to police.
“The authorities are still investigating them.”
Kyaw Yin Ho said that he had seen similar cases of Rohingyas trying to illegally travel outside of Rakhine state, though he said there were now “fewer cases than before,” without providing details. He said that in the past, Rohingyas had “mostly tried to travel to Rangoon.”
The immigration officer said that Rohingyas who had been caught trying to leave Rakhine state in the past had stood trial and that the eight men who were arrested on April 5 would do the same.
“It’s a judicial matter,” he said. “Their trial will likely last three or four days.”
Thousands of Rohingyas, described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, have fled Rakhine since the clashes. Many of them have undertaken treacherous sea journeys to seek asylum overseas.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.