Asian MPs urge probe of reported Myanmar abuses as envoys visit troubled Rakhine

Boys search for useful items among the ashes of burnt houses after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe
PHOTO: Reuters

SITTWE, Myanmar - A group of parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called on Myanmar to probe reports of human rights abuses in troubled Rakhine state on Wednesday, as top diplomats based in the country set off to visit the area.

Troops have poured into northern Rakhine since militants believed to be Rohingya Muslims launched coordinated attacks on border posts on Oct. 9, killing nine police. The government says five soldiers and at least 33 alleged attackers have been killed in the military operation.

The territory has been cut off to aid workers and observers for more than three weeks. Residents and human rights advocates have said government forces have committed abuses including summary executions, rape and setting fire to homes.

The government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has denied any abuses have been committed.

The Rohingya, most of whom live in apartheid-like conditions, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Some 125,000 remain displaced and face severe travel restrictions in squalid camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has urged the Myanmar government to conduct a "thorough and impartial investigation into reports of abuses by security forces" against civilians in Rakhine.

It also called on the military to allow aid workers and journalists access to affected areas in order to provide humanitarian assistance and document developments.

"The reports coming out of Myanmar's Rakhine State are alarming and demand a credible investigation... All authorities must take urgent action to prevent further violations and fulfil their responsibility to protect the rights of all civilians," said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian parliament.

"We remain deeply concerned, however, that as a result of the lack of government oversight of security forces, effective systems are not in place to protect civilians or support their chance of seeing justice served."

The military operation has sharpened the tension between Suu Kyi's six-month-old civilian administration and the army, which ruled the country for decades and retains key powers, including control of ministries responsible for security.

Suu Kyi, on a visit to Japan, was meeting the Burmese diaspora on Wednesday was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the afternoon.

The ambassadors of the United States, China, Britain and the European Union left the Rakhine capital, Sittwe, on Wednesday for the northern part of the state under military lockdown.

They were led by Nyi Pu, the Suu Kyi-appointed chief minister of Rakhine State. The list of participants reviewed by Reuters also included the top UN representative in Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessallien, as well as envoys from several other countries, including India, Turkey and Indonesia.

The officials will visit the Maungdaw area, although the government has not shared a detailed itinerary.

The officials have privately expressed scepticism that the high-level diplomatic mission will address the concerns raised by the international community or gain thorough access and will be able to investigate abuses independently.

In a sign that the mission was carefully managed by the authorities, state media have been invited to film the diplomats visiting the area, but no international reporters were informed of the trip or allowed to join.

Rohingya sources from the area have echoed the concerns about independent access to witnesses, but said the diplomats were likely to visit villages where residents have told Reuters of rapes, destruction of houses and killings of civilians.

Pressure on Myanmar over abuses of Rohingya minority in Rakhine

  • n this photograph taken on September 7, 2016, a minority Muslim Rohingya woman wearing traditional facial paste is seen at the Thet Kal Pyin displacement camp in Sittwe after the Rakhine State has been effectively split on religious grounds between Buddhists and Muslims since bouts of communal violence tore through the state in 2012, killing scores and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
  • Armed Myanmar border police scan the area during a patrol along the river dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh border located in Maungdaw, Rakhine State on October 15, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslim men stand at U Shey Kya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar October 27, 2016.
  • Protesters shout slogans during a rally against former U.N. chief Kofi Annan in Sittwe, Myanmar, September 6, 2016. Annan arrived for a meeting with local officials and Muslim representatives to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • A group of Myanmar Buddhist monks wait for the arrival of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan during a visit in Sittwe on September 6, 2016, to preside over a meeting of the multisector advisory commission on Rakhine State to find lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (background 3rd R), accompanied by multi-sector advisory commission on Rakhine State officials, holds a dialogue with Buddhist monks in Sittwe on September 6, 2016. Annan arrived for a meeting with local officials and Muslim representatives to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • A Rohingya Muslim elder (centre L, in white) speaks while others listen during a meeting with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (not pictured) while a policeman (R) takes notes at Thet Kay Pyin camp for displaced Rohingya families in Sittwe on September 7, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslims gather at Thet Kay Pyin camp during a visit by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (not pictured) at the camp for displaced Rohingya families in Sittwe on September 7, 2016. Annan is leading the multi-sector advisory commission on Rakhine State to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • In this photograph taken on September 7, 2016, a minority Muslim Rohingya child wearing traditional facial paste is seen in a shelter at the Thet Kal Pyin displacement camp in Sittwe after the Rakhine State has been effectively split on religious grounds between Buddhists and Muslims since bouts of communal violence tore through the state in 2012, killing scores and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
  • Allegations that Myanmar soldiers are killing, raping and torturing villagers in Rakhine, a restive region that is home to the persecuted Muslim Rohingya, must be independently investigated, rights groups said.
  • Northern Rakhine has been under a military lockdown since an attack on border guards three weeks ago left nine policeman dead.
  • The government has blamed the raids on Rohingya militants and a search for the culprits has seen more than 30 people killed and dozens arrested, according to official reports.
  • Stories of grave abuse by security officers - including sexual violence, summary executions and the torching of villages - have spiralled on social media but are difficult to verify with the army barring rights groups and journalists from the remote region bordering Bangladesh.
  • On Friday Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined calls for an impartial investigation into the allegations, which the UN has called "alarming and unacceptable".
  • "If Myanmar's security forces are not involved in any human rights violations as the authorities claim, then they should have no trouble granting independent observers access," said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty's Southeast Asia and Pacific director.
  • Writing on Facebook Friday, government spokesman Zaw Htay dismissed an article in the Myanmar Times that described reports of a "mass rape" in a Rohingya village on October 19.
  • "There was information that some attackers were kept in that village. So security was taken very seriously and (the search team) was very careful about being safe and would not think to rape up to 5 women," he wrote.
  • The government says the October 9 border raids were carried out by hundreds of Rohingya fighters linked to Taliban-trained Islamists.
  • If true, it would mark a troubling development in a religiously-split region where the stateless Rohingya have languished under years of repression but so far shown little interest in jihadist ideology.
  • Rakhine has sizzled with tension ever since waves of communal violence in 2012 killed more than 100 and pushed tens of thousands of people, mostly Rohingya, into destitute displacement camps.
  • Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar insist the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and viscerally oppose any moves to grant them citizenship.
  • The recent upsurge in violence deepens and complicates a conflict that already posed a top challenge to a new civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has disappointed rights groups by not coming out in stronger support of the Rohingya.
  • In this handout photograph released by the Myanmar Armed Forces on October 14, 2016, Myanmar Air Force air force personel evacuate teachers and civil servants with a military helicopter from Maungdaw in Rakhine State on October 13, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslim boys stand at U Shey Kya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state
  • Men walk at a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state
  • Rakhine Buddhists who fled from recent violence in Maungdaw pass their time in a temporary shelter at a stadium in Sittwe, Myanmar, October 25, 2016.
  • In this photo taken on October 15, 2016, armed Myanmar border guard patrol the border area along the river dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh located in Maungdaw, Rakhine State following attacks that killed nine border police. The government says the October 9 border raids were carried out by hundreds of Rohingya fighters linked to Taliban-trained Islamists. Rights groups are piling pressure on Myanmar to allow an impartial probe into allegations that soldiers are killing, raping and torturing villagers in a security crackdown in Rakhine, a restive region home to the persecuted Muslim Rohingya.

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