A group of independent journalists expressed their satisfaction about the access to information in the conflict areas in northern Rakhine State as they concluded their visit to the area yesterday.
As their last leg, the group visited the border gate in the morning and officials explained the flow of goods at the gate before violent attacks on 9 October that caused a temporary halt in border trade. Queries raised by the journalists were adequately answered by officials throughout their stay, said one journalist.
“We heard diverse opinions during the trip. There are allegations and also denials. There are also controversial allegations especially over excessive use of force in hunting violent attackers. So, the government should probe into that issue,” said U Soe Myint, Chief Editor of the Mizzima News Agency.
The major challenges for all communities in the conflict areas after the violent attacks are the difficulties in pursuing a livelihood and inadequate access to health care services, he added.
The chief editor also urged the government to review policies adopted in successive eras as it can be seen that the 9 October attacks are based on situations that have occurred over many years.
During the trip, which was arranged by the Ministry of Information, the reporters and photojournalists visited villages where Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus co-exist peacefully.
“We could not invite journalists from all media because this is an operations area and there are constraints of convoy. However, we made arrangements for journalists to get freedom of access to information,” said U Ye Naing, General Manager of the News and Periodicals Enterprise, who led the trip.
U Han Htway Aung, also known as Jimmy, the Vice Chairman of the Myanmar Foreign Correspondents Club, has also urged the government to look into the abuse allegations as soon as possible.
“We heard voices just from one side. So, the government should probe into the allegations. There are many allegations (alleging human rights abuses in northern Rakhine) from around the world because the government has failed to clarify it. In fact, the sovereignty of the country is harmed,” he said.
Other journalists confirmed the complete access to information during the trip.
“We arrived at the area with no restriction on any individual. We were given the freedom to interview anyone we wanted, anywhere we went. The people answered freely without fear. In terms of media freedom, we were completely free to cover the news. Upon arrival, we had total freedom of expression,” U Aung San, also known as Sithu Aung Myint, Chief Editor of Central News Bureau.
Another journalist in the group said he was confident that they had experienced a true, accurate view of what occurred on 9 October and the months afterward.
“Despite the fact that people were saying it in different ways, we have now seen the true situations with our own eyes. It was found that people’s sayings are totally different from the situations on the ground,” Shwe Inn Thar Khin Maung Win, a freelance photographer.
“There were no restrictions on us. We could interview anybody we wanted. We were surprised to see them answer without fear. And it is very good for us to have access with the chief police officer of Kyikanpyin station,” said U Myat Thura, Correspondent for Kyodo News.
“The places we went to are generally the places the media men find it difficult to go to. Now we had access to the places where the armed attacks took place. We have seen the actual situations and met with people living in the nearby areas. We have had access so that we can assess the rumours which have spread both at home and abroad. Whatever it is, I want to say that the trip was a very good one for media,” U Nyan Lin Aung, senior reporter for the Myanmar Times.
During the last day of their trip, the group also visited the 50-bed hospital in Maungtaw, where Surgeon Dr Soe Aung Than explained the efforts of the hospital to give treatment to all, regardless of race or religion. The surgeon also responded to queries by the journalists.
Later, the media team visited Alethankyaw Village and questioned local residents on the peaceful coexistence between the Muslim and Buddhist communities.
Later in the afternoon, the journalists went to Koetankauk Police Station, which was attacked on the morning of 9 October, and asked questions about the attacks before touring the actual sites of the attacks.
In the evening, Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs Minister Col Htein Lin and Social Affairs Minister Dr Chan Tha clarified facts for the media gathering on the violent attacks on 9 October, including the consequences, subsequent arrests and assaults, actions taken, questioning and release of those who were suspected to have involvement in the attacks, measures taken for regional stability, education, health and international and governmental assistance for the region. The journalists raised questions on areas of their concerns before leaving for Yangon yesterday afternoon.
—Myanmar News Agency