July 13, 2017

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No restrictions on reporting, government pledges

A fisherman walks on the beach in Sittway, Rakhine State on 2 March. Reporters arrived in Rakhine yesterday. File Photo: Reuters

Myanmar and foreign journalists representing international media organisations arrived in Rakhine State yesterday, with a pledge from the government to not impose any restrictions on the reporters visiting the troubled areas that have been the site of violence since October.
Journalists from AFP, Nikkei, VOA, Kyodo News, Xinhua, AP, Frontier, CNA, TV Asahi, RFA, ABC, BBC, NHK, Reuters, MITV and MNA were included in this third press trip to Rakhine State.
Independent media groups visited Maungtaw from 19 to 22 December 2016 and from 28 March to 1 April 2017.
The 18 Myanmar nationals and foreigners who arrived yesterday will stay in Rakhine State from 12 to 16 July. They received a government escort to the northern areas of Buthidaung and Maungtaw.
“There are no restrictions regarding the areas that you can report from,” said U Thet Swe, a director at the Ministry of Information’s News and Periodicals Enterprise.
“We didn’t arrange any ‘for show’ places for news reporting,” he said.
Last year, Myanmar’s army performed numerous “clearance operations” in the area after violent attackers fought border patrol posts near the Bangladesh border, killing nine police officers.
Some 75,000 people fled across the nearby border to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations, which has documented allegations of gang rape, torture, arson and killings by security forces.
The government has denied most of the allegations, and has denied entry to a UN fact-finding mission tasked with looking into the allegations.
The government has not allowed independent journalists and human rights monitors from going to the area in the far north of the state for the past nine months for their own security.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said a UN fact-finding mission would only heighten tension in the region. Myanmar officials say a domestic investigation, led by Vice President U Myint Swe and a commission headed by former UN chief Kofi Annan  – are the appropriate ways to address problems in Rakhine State. Annan recommended in March that authorities “provide full and regular access for domestic and international media to all areas affected by recent violence”.
Reporters on the visit to the northern areas would be provided security by Myanmar’s paramilitary Border Guard Police force, U Thet Swe said.
Although access would not be restricted, he said, reporters should stay close to officials during visits to villages for their own security. A detailed itinerary for the five-day trip was provided to reporters yesterday. U Thet Swe said, the plan was “not fixed” and would be subject to changes due to the weather and security concerns. He invited reporters to suggest additional places they want to visit. Reporters will be taken to the village of Tin May, where security forces killed two suspected militants and arrested one after they detonated a bomb on Sunday, according to an announcement from the State Counsellor’s office. While Myanmar has denied entry to a UN fact-finding mission, a UN special rapporteur on human rights, Ms. Yanghee Lee, is visiting Rakhine State this week.
Although she is not expected to visit the northern areas near the border with Bangladesh, she is due to meet some of the people displaced in violence since 2012. — Simon Lewis, Reuters and Myanmar News Agency

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