Due to the attacks by extremist terrorists from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which took place on 25 August in Maungtaw, local residents experienced many kinds of difficulties and hardships, including many displaced people. Likewise, there were allegations and criticisms of evil-minded agitators from home and abroad so that the international community would get confused over Rakhine State affairs, even in such an atmosphere of peace and tranquility after passing a period of living in anxiety and fear. Accordingly, the news team interviewed U Yu Lwin Aung, a member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, who visited the conflict areas for five days for an assessment of the situations on the ground from every point of view.
Following is the interview with U Yu Lwin Aung (Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Member)
Q. Concerning situation in the Maungtaw region, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission members conducted a survey in the conflict areas for five days. Can you tell me the aims and objectives of the trip?
A. On August 25, there happened violent attacks of extremist terrorists in Maungtaw and Buthidaung. There were many allegations in the international sphere that there were violations of human rights, excessive use of force and ethnic cleansing in fighting against them. Concerning these allegations, the MNHRC assigned us to study and assess the actual events and situations on the ground, assessing that it is necessary to ascertain whether these events were real or not. On September 25, we called on the Chief Minister of Rakhine State, explaining him the aims and objectives of the trip. On the very day, we accompanied the Chief Minister, knowing that the Chief Minister and party had arranged to view the site where Hindus were massacred. Upon arrival at the site, we found 28 dead bodies of Hindus killed by extremist terrorists near Yebawkya village. At the place, not far from the site, another pit was found again in which 14 corpses were buried. Upon further search for bodies, security forces of the border security guard found three more bodies. On that day we witnessed 17 bodies before our eyes. If they are added to the former 28 ones, it would amount to 45. According to further inquiries, we found bereaved families and relatives of the killed victims. Out of over 100 abducted, 8 girls and children were taken to Bangladesh and girls were raped on the way and forced to converted to their religion.
We came to know on the very first day of our trip that ethnic cleansing was made by extremist terrorists, absolutely not by the army as alleged and criticised by some people. In the human rights point of view, it was found that survival of a small amount of Hindus was being violated. It was learnt that forced conversion to their religion was violating their freedom of worship. And committing rape is a violation of women’s rights.
Q. We have known that the commission visited villages in northern and southern Maungtaw Region. Please share your experiences with us.
A. On the second day of the trip, we went to Kyikanpyin and Ngakhura in northern Maungtaw via Maungtaw. Over there we met with Hindus in Ngakhura. While meeting with many ethnic races, nobody said that Tatmadaw committed genocide. We found that terrorists entering from the neighbouring country organised naive Islamists with fear and other kinds of means. They attacked police outposts simultaneously after organising them.
Q. What is the view of the commission on the situation in Maungtaw region?
A. These events are pre-planned terrorist acts with set aims rather than an impromptu terrorist act. Before these events, those who can inform the government and Tatmadaw like heads of wards were killed to breed fear. Those who reported the true happenings were also killed. Even a young woman clerk in the office of the head of district administrative department was killed as an informer. Muslims who had contact with government, Tatmadaw and administrative organisations were also killed. Afterwards, a number of ethnic Mro were killed. Then police posts manned by a few were attacked by mobs of hundreds and thousands with IEDs, machetes, and small arms. It is obvious that they plan to annihilate nearby minority ethnic nationals once these posts fell.
Q. (The committee) visited both ethnic national villages as well as Muslim villages. What are the differences?
A. The commission divided into two groups on the third day. My group visited villages south of Maungtaw, while the group led by Dr. Myint Kyi visited Maungtaw town and villages north of Maungtaw. Some Muslim villagers say terrorists came to their village to organise but they didn’t involve themselves with the terrorists. Some say they don’t like being called Bangali. While we were interviewing the Muslim villagers, we saw a Tatmadaw car entering the village. What is strange is a pole about a man’s height was stuck in the middle of the gravel road to prevent entry into the village and Tatmadaw personnel had to remove it in order to enter the village. We asked the Tatmadaw personnel why they came and they said they came to give medical treatment to a family in the village. This is my first-hand experience of Tatmadaw providing medical assistance to a Muslim village instead of harming or causing problem to the village. What I want to say is that there were no signs of Tatmadaw conducting ethnic cleansing, rape and using excessive force.
Q. You met with Muslims who were illegally entering into Bangladesh. How did you meet them?
A. Yes. We heard of a group of Muslims preparing to enter illegally into Bangladesh gathering at a beach near Alethankyaw and together with Maungtaw District General Administrative Department’s Commissioner U Ye Htut, we went to talk to them. We saw more than a thousand Muslims provided with food and shelter by ICRC (International Community of the Red Cross) and the Myanmar Red Cross Society. We spoke with groups of Muslims in six different locations and they said they don’t have security and they are afraid of reprisals. We told them that we’ll provide police and Tatmadaw for security as well as food. The Tatmadaw will also send medical assistance for health care. However we say they replied that they’ll go to Bangladesh as it is more convenient there than here. They say they are afraid to stay. As they went on their own free will, we do not have the right to prevent them and we didn’t. The strange thing about the whole incident was that they came from villages in the eastern side of Mayu Mountain range, south of Buthidaung where nothing happens. If they were fleeing from places where there were killings, it would have been understandable. Some sold off all their belongings so there seems to be no way they are ever going to come back. More strange is we heard of Muslims in MraukU where everything is peaceful being called by phone from Bangladesh (to cross over). We saw people being carried over to Bangladesh by pre-arranged motorised boats from Bangladesh, so it means that they were being willingly invited in. This is really strange.
Q. What do you want to say about events in Maungtaw region? What will be included in the commission’s report?
A. There are some villages in Buthidaung and Maungtaw region that remain where they were. Ethnic nationals are afraid of staying there if those villages remain there. There is fear. This is something we need to keep in mind. We will report our findings to the President. We will also report to Hluttaw and relevant departments. Some, we will announce to the public so that all will know. We want all to look first-hand on the ground instead of listening to comments from outside. This is not an ordinary event. It is an attempt to violate the sovereignty of the country using religion and race. From a human rights viewpoint, it can be seen that a number of ethnic nationals were massacred in groups. The Government needs to set up proper plans so that there is no recurrence of such events. If not, we conclude that there’ll be more mass killings and killing of minority ethnic nationals.
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission committee members U Yu Lwin Aung, Dr. Myint Kyi and secretary U Bone Kywe visited and met with people from the two societies for five days from 25 to 29 September to study the events in Maungtaw region. Their findings will be reported to the President in a few days.
Maung Sein Lwin (Myanma Alin)