By Kyaw Ye Lynn
A former Rohingya lawmaker has slammed a state media report that claims that the Muslim ethnic group has been torching its own homes in western Mynamar to evoke international sympathy during army clearance operations.
“It’s ridiculous,” Shwe Maung told Anadolu Agency in an email Wednesday, but claimed that it is a tactic that has been utilized by the military in Maungdaw in Rakhine State before.
“It’s not that strange because Rohingya villagers were also blamed when troops and police burnt down homes in Du Chi Yar Tan village,” he said, referring to an instance in January 2014 in which 48 Rohingya are reported to have died.
“The government should investigate what is happening in Maungdaw instead of blaming victims again and again.”
On Wednesday, the army-run Myawaddy newspaper claimed mass arson attacks on Rohingya villages in the northern area of troubled Rakhine were self-inflicted.
“Insurgents have also set fire to houses in villages in order to cause misunderstandings about the security forces, and to receive assistance and sympathy from the international community,” the Myawaddy reported.
The accusation is reflective of a campaign in which both Rohingya and military have tried to blame each other.
Since an armed group launched fatal attacks on police stations in the country's west last month, the government says at least 86 people -- including soldiers and 69 alleged attackers (among them two women) -- have been killed in Rakhine.
It added this week that troops had arrested a further 35 people -- taking the overall number of those held to 278 -- for allegedly preparing to attack government troops during on-going military clearance operations.
“Arrangements are now under way to interrogate the suspects according to the laws,” said the state-run Global News Light of Myanmar newspaper Wednesday.
There has been no independent verification of the arrests or attacks as access to the affected area near the Bangladesh border has been under Myanmar military control since Oct. 9.
While state media has focused on on-going attacks on its soldiers, NGOs and pro-Rohingya groups have alleged widespread abuses -- including rape and murder -- of the area's predominantly Rohingya population.
The government has claimed that 86 people -- 10 police, seven soldiers and 69 alleged attackers (among them two women) -- have been killed in Rakhine’s north since Oct. 9, however Rohingya groups disagree.
They say the numbers could be as high as 150 civilians killed this weekend alone.
"The total casualities from 9 October to 13 November are estimated to be 350 killed, 300 injured, many dozens of women raped, hundreds of people arrested on concocted charges, and 3500 houses, including four villages, were burned down or destroyed," the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation said in a statement Tuesday.
The United Nations and international human rights groups have called on the government to probe allegations of rights abuses along with the alleged attacks.
Over the weekend, Human Rights Watch released a statement saying that new satellite images indicate mass arson attacks against Rohingya villages, with at least 430 buildings destroyed.
“New satellite images not only confirm the widespread destruction of Rohingya villages but show that it was even greater than we first thought,” said the group’s Asia director, Brad Adams.
On Wednesday, the chair of an international body set up to provide recommendations to the government on measures for resolving the complex challenges facing Rakhine expressed his concern.
"The recent violence... is plunging the State into renewed instability and creating new displacement. All communities must renounce violence and I urge the security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law," said Kofi Annan, the chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
"Recent events have reinforced the urgency of tackling these challenges in order to find viable solutions in the interest of all the people of the State."
For years, the Rohingya have been described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide.
On Wednesday, Maung Maung, a Rohingya man living in state capital Sittwe, told Anadolu Agency by phone that he was unable to verify the cause of the fires in Maungdaw.
“We are always subject of blame,” he underlined.
“But who is going to torch his or her home in pursuit of sympathy from foreigners?”Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.