The government yesterday strongly refuted a recent report by a rights organization that accused Tatmadaw troops of burning down houses in northern Rakhine State.
A special press conference was held at the Presidential Palace in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday to announce the formation of an information committee that would be in charge of releasing information about the conflicts in Rakhine, but the main topic of discussion was the recent Human Rights Watch report that alleged government troops to has set fire to houses in Maungtaw on 10 november. Based on the report, the Bangkok Post published a news story on 14 november about human rights abuses, allegations that the government resolutely denies. The Tatmadaw True Information Team has also refuted the report.
Concerning the accusations in the report, it has been announced that findings of the committee from its field inspections will be released shortly. The Bangkok Post on 14 november published a news story of violent attacks by government troops in Maungtaw that started on 9 October, the same day that border guard outposts were attacked by armed men. Other media outlets also published the news story.
The State Counsellor, in consultation with leaders of the Tatmadaw, sent teams to Warpate, Kyetyoepyin, Pyaungpite, Dargyisar villages and surrounding areas by Tatmadaw helicopters on 15 november in order to take photos or to get a firsthand view of the situation.
The Tatmadaw field inspection team found that 105 structures in Warpate, 30 structures in Kyetyoepyin Village, 30 structures in Dargyisar Village, 20 structures in Pyaungpite Village had been burnt down. Findings of the teams were displayed at the press conference that showed photos from human Rights Watch as well as those from the Tatmadaw that seemed to show very different views of the same area.
The government photos show a much smaller area of burnt houses, while the human Rights Watch photos show much greater devastation. The government contends that the burnt homes shown in their photos were caused by attackers, not by the Tatmadaw.
Yesterday’s news conference also included an announcement from the Secretary of the State Counsellor’s Office Information Committee. Deputy Director-General U Zaw htay of the President’s Office said that a State Counsellor’s Office Information Committee has been formed by the president’s office. The aim was to release correct information about the situation in Rakhine State in a timely manner.
The committee will hold press conferences and issue press releases when warranted. Then, the committee responded to queries of the media.
Concerning the question on declaring the Maungtaw area as an operation zone and the use of helicopters in fighting, U Zaw Htay said that the area was declared as operation zone because of the violent attacks. The limited use of helicopters was begun because a commanding officer was attacked. Although helicopters can carry rockets and bombs, the helicopters contained only mounted machine guns.
He also said that findings of the committee will be released starting tomorrow, with the media allowed to cover news in the area in the same ways as diplomats were allowed to visit. A news team from the Ministry of Information led by a director has been sent there in cooperation with the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs. Based on the security situation of the news team, private media will also be sent there, he said.
He also pledged to cooperate with the media for sensitive conflict reports in the future. U Zaw Htay continued to say that the office of the Rakhine State Information Committee is opend at the Presidential Palace, with Maj-Gen Soe Naing, the deputy leader of the Tatmadaw Information Team, together with other responsible personnel being at the office.
He also pledged that the information team of the Tatmadaw would release ground reports in Rakhine State as soon as it is ready.
Regarding the challenges faced by the government in restoration of community peace and stability in Rakhine State, U Zaw Htay said out of 36 suspects arrested on 12 November, Mohammad Islam, 41, was living in Pwintphyuchaung Village and he, along with villagers, went to the fighting with the government troops. He added that Mohammad Islam told the police during the interrogation that the violent attackers who came back from Bangladesh set fire to the homes.
The Deputy Director-General continued to say that Sardu Armay, who was arrested on 14 November, told police that he came to Myasin Village together with villagers to fight the government troops. U Zaw Htay continued to say that diplomats asked the villagers during their trip to the conflict areas whether they understood the writings on the placards they were holding, the villagers replied that they did not understand them and they received the writings from Viber. The villagers did not answer who sent the words to them, he added.
Maungtaw conflict was not a simple phenomenon and it was found that violent attackers are planning how to fight the security forces when the troops came to their village.
It needs to create an environment for peaceful coexistence of the both communities to get grid off the extremism from the villagers who were inculcated, he added.
However, it was found that it was difficult to solve the issue as the attackers are mixing with the villagers and it needs to take time to settle the problem, he said.
During the investigation into rape accusations in the conflict areas, local women replied that no rape cases happened there, he said.
The fresh conflict in the Rakhine State was the third one and instigators behind the conflict were linking with the international communities, he said.
Daw Aye Aye Soe, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the October-9 attacks were considered instigating the conflicts as all denied the human right resolution proposal at the United Nations.
Regarding the measures taken by the government troops, Maj-Gen Soe Naing Oo said that the coordinated attacks on the four border outposts on 9th October are considered infringing on the sovereignty of the country.
In response to the attacks in which nine policemen were killed and 65 arms were taken away by the armed attackers, the government troops a still carrying out operations within the limit allowed by the government and in accordance with the international laws.
Regarding the using of a helicopter in the fighting, he continued to say that the troops were under attack from three directions by more than 830 armed attackers in which 30 were with guns and the remaining were holding machetes, spears and catapults. To disperse the crowd, the troops first used rubber bullets to control them and one commanding officer died in the earlier situation.
To save the troops and the injured officers, the Tatmadaw used the helicopter but did not use rockets and bombs following the Geneva Convention rules.
Regarding the reporting at conflict areas, he said the attackers were not in uniform and the troops could not exactly say where the camps of the attackers were. The security forces were ambushed frequently and the area was declared the operation area as it was difficult to ensure security and safety, he added. The troops are taking security measures in the areas following the instructions of the government and international rules, he said.