Some houses of Bengali villages and ethnic villages were burnt and damaged by arson attacks of terrorists.
The following is presentation of the interview with Police Brigadier General Thura San Lwin and Maungtaw District Commissioner U Ye Htut.
Q: Please let me know how many villages are in Maungtaw, Buthidaung and Yathedaung areas.
A: Tatmadaw and Myanmar police forces are still clearing the area and it is difficult to get the precise information of the area. The exact list of the damage can be provided after ground survey on how many households in the village, how many houses were burnt and how many were left are made by General Administration Department, Land Record Department, Fire Brigade Department, City Development Department, Border guard police force and Immigration Department which usually collects 3 types of list annually.
Q: It was informed that the ARSA extremist terrorists and Bengalis are doing subversive activities in the burnt area with intent not to be able to put out the fire. Please explain about that information.
A: It is certain that ARSA extremist terrorists and Bengalis were colluding in burning the Bengali villages and ethnic villages. In those incidents improvised bombs exploded. So, we can conclude that the terrorists are resorting to subversive activities at the burnt villages.
Q: Is there still any arson cases up to now since the terrorist activities on 25th August?
A: We find the fire outbreaks everyday while area clearing operation is being carried out. It is found the fire outbreaks become less after the Bengalis have deserted their villages.
Q: Could you please make it clear whether the terrorists burnt the villages or the Bengali villagers burnt their house by themselves and fled?
A: We found in every instances that the terrorists and Bengalis were burning their houses by themselves and fled. According to security forces, when they went on clearing operation to villages the improvised bombs were set to explode and gunfire were heard. Then the houses were seen burning. Then, they fled. The sequence of the incidents indicate clearly that the terrorists and the collaborators set the fires so as to give the false impression that the security forces were burning the Bengali villages.
Q. Could you explain how the border guard police forces are investigating and exposing the true perpetrators of arsons and how they will be taken action.
A. Concerning this case, we will take action according to the rules.
Q. While the local and foreign journalists are collecting the news at Ale Thankyaw on 7 September, some ethnic villagers were found bringing the materials near Gorduthara village. Please explain about that case.
A. The cases in this context are complicated. There has been no complaint concerning the fire cases. In all fire incidents Bengalis burnt their houses and fled to create the false impression on the fire cases. It can be assumed that the ethnic people having known that the villages had been deserted, went there and took things. We will investigate the cases and take actions seriously on those who breached the law.
Q. Is there any order or instruction not to burn the villages and not to take things from burnt villages. If there is any infringement how it will be dealt?
A. It has already been instructed not to burn the village and take things form the burnt villages. If any breach of law occurs the action will be taken under police Acts or Civil Laws.
Q. If there is anything you want to add, please let us know.
A. We want peace and tranquility as immediately as possible because we are taking security duty in this area. We consider the most important thing for the time being is to coordinate between the security forces and the State government to bring the situation under control and back to normal so as to be able to bring the displaced persons including ethnic people and Bengalis who are not connected to terrorist’s acts back to their original places and to take care the health and livelihood and to be able to open the schools for the children.
U Ye Htut (Maungtaw District Commissioner)
Q: Could you please let us know how many houses were burnt and damaged by terrorists in Maungtaw and Buthidaung?
A: About 10,000 houses were burnt according to the information collected from the security forces and district administrative offices.
Q: Are all the burnt-out houses owned by ethnics or by Bengalis?
A: Ethnic homes were also included, and so too, the homes of Hindus and Bengalis. Because of the violence, public homes within the area were also burnt down.
Q: Were there fires in Maungtaw? How much was damaged? How did the fires break out?
A: There were also fires in Maungtaw. When shooting occurred in Maungtaw beginning 25 August, there were fires in Ward 4 and Ward 5. Roughly about 200 and 300 homes were damaged. The detailed list can be conformed only after combined teams conducted field investigation.
Q: We heard that in some incidents, fires could not be put out because of the disturbances of terrorists. In what way they were making disturbances?
A: Fires not just started in a single place. It broke out simultaneously in various places. So we could not cordon the burning areas to put down the fire. We could fight the fire with all available forces only in the accessible areas. It was not easy to fight fire in all places at the same time. As there were shootings, people were afraid to join forces with firefighters.
Q: Please make me clear whether village fires were caused by Bengalis or ethnics.
A: During the 2012 incident 12 ethnic villages were torched. In every incident, we only heard accusations, branding ethnics as the arsonists. Till now, we haven’t heard or seen even a single proof. Bengalis terrorists torched the villages, and when security forces came in they ran away and putting the blame on the security personnel through false information. Terrorists also burnt down homes of their fellow Bengalis who did not cooperate with them. We heard information about terrorist arson attacks against Shidar Ward in Myinlut. During the time there were no security patrols in the area, and even the police outpost there was under armed assault. The village was on fire. No security personnel had reached that point then. And there was not a single ethnic race in the area. There were only Bengalis. They torched the houses and ran away. They did the same thing in other villages. The same happened in the 2016 October crisis. We assume they were just attempting to materialize the biased global accusation on us as the ones who were persecuting the minority Bengalis and burning down their homes.
A: How are you going to expose and take action against the arsonists?
Q: Unfortunately, most of the Bengali villages made no contacts with us during the crisis. We heard fires in some places. Some villages informed about the attacks. In some cases we received information about the number of villages under arson attack though viber group and ward/village administrators. As we have not yet full information from those groups, it is difficult to say the number of villages burnt down. Depending on the security and peace of the respective regions, we will compile an accurate list. Currently, our list is just based on information we received from the villages and security forces.
Q: Are fires still blazing across the area since terrorist attacks broke out on 25 August?
A: The international media is accusing us in connection with the issue. As there are continuous actions we are trying to put the area under security control, put down the fires and collect data through the help of security personnel. Terrorists are committing arson attacks in tricking the international community into putting the blame on security forces. The terrorists were trying to put the blame on security forces operating in the area.
Q: Some foreign media quoted internal and international media as witnessing the taking away of property by ethnics from some burning houses while gathering news in Gawduthara village on 7 September. Please elaborate.
A: In trying to stabilize the security situation, on 26 August the district police officer announced the abandonment of the area where fires are still taking place. The announcement has been relayed to the villages through the viber group. As a government staff discharging duties this is the first time I have heard that Internal and international media were collecting news at the village. BBC had made this accusation on its news post. Without any firm proof you can’t accuse anyone of arson attack. When the media groups came back they told us that they heard gunfire and arson attacks at Gawduthara village while collecting information in Alethankyaw village. But they got near Gawduthara village only two hours after the sound of gunfire came out. So, we draw conclusion that the people they met with in the village cannot be the arsonists. It could be that some nearby people or some passersby took some items from the abandoned burning homes.
Every crisis comes together with lawless actions. We will take action if the accusation presented to us has firm evidence. Some media gave us photos. We will look into the matter. We are trying to stabilize the area so that we can be able to investigate the accusations closely. When there is the rule of law and normal administrative machinery there will be effective legal actions.
Q: What is your resettlement plan in connection with the fire-hit homes? When can you start your resettlement program?
A: Currently we are at the stage of putting the regional security under control. We have been setting up gathering points within the security zones where food safety is prioritized. If everything becomes normal again, we will implement the resettlement program though the combine teams formed with district and township level officials and the public.
Q: Anything more to explain?
A: Of the crises in Maungtaw in 2012, 2016 and 2017, 2016 is an internationally known crisis. But the incident on 25 August this year is more severe than it. In fact, this incident is based on the one happened in 2012. In 2016, sovereignty was threatened. The attack on the forces taking security duties in this area cannot be carried out without an advanced plan. The synchronized attacks on 30 outposts which are graver than the 2016 incident are an extraordinary issue. The State after denouncing them as a terrorist group should decisively crush them. Security forces and regional officials are making cooperative efforts daily in connection with the matter. As for legal actions, directives have already been issued. As we have already distributed all necessary information in all the rank and file we believe that all the security members are doing their work within the legal framework. Local people must stay away from getting involved with or abetting terrorists by cooperating with us. Regional peace, stability and security cannot be restored by the security forces alone. The quickest way is through the involvement of the entire regional people. I would request the people to contact the security forces and take all the contact numbers. There are nearby hotlines where people can ask help in connection with security or food requirements in their areas. We are trying to govern the region to the best of our ability within the legal framework. We are ready to render assistance if there is any difficulty.