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Myanmar Government Says UN “Failed to Recognize Myanmar’s Efforts to Stabilize Situation” in Rakhine

The above quote is from National Security Advisor Thaung Tun who gave a briefing on the current situation in Rakhine State on April 11 at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Yangon. His statement was in reference to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right’s report which was released in February of this year. The UN report claims that there is strong and credible evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by Myanmar security forces during operations in northern Rakhine State.

Thaung Tun explained “The decision (to release the report) is less than constructive. The report fails to reflect the real situation and fails to recognize the efforts of the Myanmar Government to stabilize the situation and give solutions to the instability in the region which is primarily caused by divisions between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists”.

In October of last year a group of assailants attacked three separate border posts (Kyee Kan Pyin post, Ko Tan Kauk post and Ngakhuya post) on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships. Following an investigation by local authorities, a group which calls itself the ‘Aqa Mul Mujahidin’, or the Faith Movement of Arakan, a radical Islamic group that operates out of Bangladesh, was declared the responsible party by the President’s Office. In response to the attack, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) immediately undertook security control and village sweeping operations in an attempt to capture the assailants (it was suspected the group had between 100 – 400 members inside Rakhine State). It was in the process of these operations that war crimes and crimes against humanity were reportedly committed against the Muslim communities of northern Rakhine state (known to international media as the Rohingya). The Myanmar government maintains that no war crimes or crimes against humanity of any kind were committed during operations and that the UN was duped by false reporting by war refugees who wish to garner sympathy for their illegal residency in Myanmar.

The UN OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) Rakhine Report, based on the collected interviews, testimony and medical examinations of Rakhine Muslims who fled Myanmar after the sweeping operations began, says that there is compelling evidence to suggest that the military committed mass executions, the gang rape of women and children and the mutilation and torture of hundreds of local citizens of both sexes and all ages. These actions are considered by the United Nations to be war crimes and, in some cases, crimes against humanity (the most heinous form of violent crime in the world). Human rights groups said the recent army crackdown included the burning down of more than 1,000 homes, a charge supported by high-resolution satellite images and witness testimony, and the murder of an unknown number of civilians across the state, perhaps as many as 1,000 or more. The report stated that if the allegations are true the violence was “massive and systematic”. The Myanmar government maintains that any burned villages were destroyed by their own inhabitants to frame the Tatmadaw for war crimes.

More than 70,000 people fled across the border into Bangladesh and another 20,000 became internally displaced. Over the course of the sweeping operations there were at least 12 firefights between the Tatmadaw and armed assailants believed to be members of Aqa Mul Mujahidin.

This is not the first time communal violence has broken out in Rakhine State. Relations between the Muslim minority and Buddhist communities have been tense for decades. In 2012, the situation made international headlines when riots broke out between following reports that a group of Muslim men had gang raped and murdered a local Buddhist woman. That the attackers were reportedly Muslim was enough to ignite full scale mob violence across Rakhine state and caused a group of young local Muslim men, wrongly thought to be the suspects in the case, to be lynched and murdered along with seven other people on the same bus. On one occasion that was caught on camera and broadcast internationally, a group of local Muslims were beaten by a crowd which included a novice monk. After two days of violence the Thein Sein government declared martial law in Rakhine state and requested that the Tatamdaw (Myanmar army) move in to restore order. The situation stabilized for a time until October of that year when a second wave of riots rocked the state. All told, 200 men, women and children (the vast majority of whom were Muslim) died during the riots and 140,000 people were displaced. The situation remained uneasy but stable until the attacks on the border posts last year. At the close of sweeping operations, the Tatmadaw and local police claimed to have killed 69 enemy combatants and arrested 585 suspects. The police reported that six suspects died while in custody

Thaung Tun told reporters said at the Peace Centre that “We look forward to the understanding and constructive support of the international community. We are working hard to grant citizenship to those who are eligible. It cannot be done overnight and there is a long way to go before peace and stability (come to) the state. What we need is help and cooperation. We need people to join hands with us to move the situation forward to overcome the obstacles,”.

He added firmly “There is no genocide of the Muslim minority in Rakhine state”.

Finally, he said that Myanmar has started the process of shutting down three IDP camps in Rakhine state. It has not been announced where those people will be moved to. The National Security Advisor urged a focus on progress toward positive developments in terms of increased humanitarian aid, education and health access in the affected areas. Bangladesh, which has become inundated with thousands of war refugees that it does not recognize as natural citizens (Myanmar insists that they are) is currently searching for solutions to the humanitarian crisis on their side of the border. There are reports that the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar are negotiating to strengthen border security.