Authorities have charged two ethnic Rakhine villagers with “threatening public tranquility” for building homes without official permission beside a burned-out community once occupied by Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state’s Maungdaw district, villagers said.
Tun Myint Oo and his wife Ohmar Kyaw, and an associate, Aung Naing from Hsin Pike village in neighboring Rathedaung township, were arrested on Monday for their part in spearheading the building of the new settlement after local authorities raided the area and destroyed 48 newly built structures next to Thinbaw Kyawe village.
The husband and wife were charged under Article 505(b) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail. They were briefly sent to Maungdaw's Inn Din village on Monday before they were transferred to a jail in neighboring Buthidaung township on Tuesday, local residents said.
“They appeared at Maungdaw Township Court today and were taken to Buthidaung after that,” said Shweye Lin Let, daughter of the arrested couple.
The third person taken into police custody, who was required to appear in court with the couple on Monday, is believed to be on the run.
More than 180 Rakhine villagers from the 48 homes went to nearby Inn Din village while others headed to Kyautpandu village, where they are temporarily staying in a monastery, villagers said.
Local Rakhine villagers decided to build homes near the entrance of Thinbaw Kyawe village last November since the area had been deserted for months following an army-led campaign against the Rohingya that United Nations experts say amounted to ethnic cleansing.
A few weeks after the structures were built, authorities told the villagers, most of whom came from different areas of Rakhine state, to move to Inn Din, a Rohingya community, and about 50 families moved, according to a report in the online journal The Irrawaddy.
Some of those who remained in the new village recently told local media that authorities had ordered them to leave within one week or face arrest, the report said.
Authorities, who talked to the residents about moving out and said they would arrange other homes for them to live in, ordered police to dismantle the settlement after the Rakhines refused to leave.
“We begged authorities not to make us move out because we had already built a house in Thinbaw Kyawe village,” Shweye Lin Let said. “We just requested that we could stay in the house for two more months and move out when the rainy season is over.”
“They [authorities] said we were not allowed to stay there, though we didn’t want to move out,” she said. “That’s why my parents were arrested and taken away.”
One of hundreds
Thinbaw Kyawe was one of hundreds of villages that were torched by Myanmar security forces and Rakhine groups during a crackdown targeting the Rohingya in the wake of deadly attacks on police outposts by an obscure Muslim militant group in northern Rakhine state in late August 2017.
Rohingya civilians suffered indiscriminate killings, torture, and rape at the hands of security forces, while their villages were burned to the ground. The campaign forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to safety in Bangladesh, where they live in sprawling refugee camps.
Inn Din village, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, was the site of a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys shot or hacked to death by soldiers and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbors who dumped their bodies in a mass grave in early September 2017. Their remains were discovered three months later.
In April, seven soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor for their roles in the violence, in a rare admission of army culpability and case of subsequent punishment.
International rights groups have called for Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, and 12 other military and border guard officers to be tried at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity for their leading roles in the atrocities against the Rohingya.
Earlier this year, the government bulldozed the remains of the burned Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine to rebuild the region, officials said, though New-York-based Human Rights Watch accused them of destroying crucial evidence of mass atrocities before a credible investigation could take place.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.