Friday, November 4, 2016

Myanmar: 'Credible' probe demanded into Rakhine deaths

Top diplomats, UN official call for independent investigation into attacks in Muslim area in which some 45 people have died

Top diplomats and a United Nations official returning from Rakhine State have called for a credible probe into last month's fatal attacks in the area, along with allegations that Myanmar soldiers killed and raped Rohingya.

Since armed individuals killed nine police officers Oct. 9, reporting on the deaths and a subsequent hunt for the attackers has been called into question, with accusations levelled that both pro-and anti-Rohingya groups are using the attacks for political gain. 

On Friday, Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, told a press briefing in commercial capital Yangon that a probe independent of political pressure was needed.

“We are not there to investigate," she said of a UN-led 10-member delegation, which has been visiting Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships -- two areas that have been under military lockdown since the attacks. 

"The visit is just the first step towards broader access. For a clear picture of the situation in the area, we urge the government to launch credible and independent investigations into the attacks and consequences."

Lok-Dessallien added that authorities had assured that aid would resume in townships occupied predominantly by displaced Muslim Rohingya in “one or two days”.

Since the Oct. 9 attacks -- in which armed individuals also stole weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition from on targeted police station outposts -- a military operation in pursuit of culprits has seen at least 29 suspected attackers (including two women) killed along with five soldiers. 

On Monday, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee said in a statement that even though a probe has been called for into the violence, the attacks continue.

“State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has rightly called for proper investigations to be conducted and for no one to be accused until solid evidence is obtained," Lee said.

"Instead, we receive repeated allegations of arbitrary arrests as well as extrajudicial killings occurring within the context of the security operations conducted by the authorities in search of the alleged attackers."

On Thursday evening -- around an hour after the diplomats (from the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and China) left the area -- a new attack was reported to have taken place on a police station outpost.

“The death of 15 government troops is a big problem, and we are concerned about the attack yesterday,” the EU ambassador to Myanmar, Roland Kobi, said Friday

State-run newspapers reported that attackers on three motorcycles shot the two guards with small weapons fire.

“One police officer died of his wounds and the other one was slightly injured,” the report said. 

The UN Special Rapporteur has underlined that a major problem in ascertaining the true picture has been the lack of access for a proper assessment.

"The blanket security operations have restricted access for humanitarian actors with concerning consequences for communities’ ability to secure food and conduct livelihood activities.”

On Tuesday, the Burma Human Rights Network reported that reports were emerging of soldiers raping Rohingya women.

"At least ten cases of rape against Rohingya women have been documented by civilians in Maungdaw since the army entered the city," Executive Director Kyaw Win said in a statement.

"These reports, while difficult to independently verify, contain strong evidence and beg for further investigation."

On Thursday, a reporter at Myanmar Times was sacked for an article on the alleged rapes, citing Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project -- an NGO that monitors the plight of the Rohingya. 

The deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch suggested government involvement, calling the dismissal "a new low" in an email to Anadolu Agency on Friday.

"What are they trying to hide?" Phil Robertson asked.

"Rather than trying to shut down reports that it doesn't like, the government should respect press freedom and permit journalists to do their jobs by investigating what is really happening on the ground."

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