Asia - Pacific

Myanmar region to train 'non Muslims' as police help

Spokesperson says new force to protect police from insurgents in predominantly Rohingya area of strife-torn Rakhine State

Myanmar region to train 'non Muslims' as police help File photo

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

YANGON, Myanmar

A local police force has begun recruiting non-Muslim residents to set up a militia-like force to protect the community from insurgents in a predominantly Rohingya Muslim area of Myanmar's strife-torn Rakhine State.

The area -- Maungdaw Township near the Bangladesh border -- has been under a military lockdown since an armed gang killed nine police officers and stole dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in attacks on border police outposts on Oct. 9.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Rakhine regional government told Anadolu Agency that police are planning to train ethnic Rakhine and other non-Muslim ethnic minorities living in Maungdaw as “regional police”.

“We have started recruiting regional police in the area,” Min Aung said. “After a four-month training period, they will serve."

He added that around 100 men aged 18 to 30 years old had enrolled for the first batch of training in state capital Sittwe, and when trained they would be armed as are regular police, and would serve under the command of the Border Guard Police Forces.

When contacted by Anadolu Agency, the Islamic Religious Affairs Council in Myanmar (the country's official Muslim body) said it had no comment to make on the specific recruitment in Rakhine, but stressed that rule of law is vital to the stability of the area.

“Lack of rule of law is the main cause of conflicts in the area,” said Wunna Shwe, joint secretary of the council.

In 2012, violence between the local Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine -- one of the poorest regions in Myanmar -- left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.

The state is home to around 1.2 million Rohingya, who have long been officially labeled as “Bengali” -- a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh -- and denied citizenship.​

On Thursday, presidential spokesman Zaw Htay told Anadolu Agency that the training and arming of locals as regional police is in accordance with the country’s law.

“Other areas of the country also have regional police,” he said.

A United Nations-led 10-member delegation concluded a two-day visit to Maungdaw on Thursday, where many of the armed individuals are suspected of coming from.

In the past month, rights groups have claimed that the military is killing, raping and torturing villagers in the country's western-most state as it sought to avenge, and find those responsible for, the Oct. 9 attacks.

Many of the Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide -- have been living in camps since the 2012 communal violence.

Wunna Shwe underlined to Anadolu Agency that the council was concerned about the reports of abuse against the Rohingya community.

“We just want everyone, Muslims or non-Muslims, in the area to live in peace and with dignity,” he said.

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