RANGOON — A Burmese government spokesman has said a statement by the United Nations claiming it had credible information that at least 48 Rohingya Muslims were killed in northern Arakan State this month was “unacceptable.”
In the statement released Thursday in New York, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an investigation into the alleged deaths in Du Chee Yar Tan village, Maungdaw Township, reports of which Burmese authorities have strongly denied.
Ye Htut, spokesman for the office of President Thein Sein, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the UN statement could worsen the situation in western Burma, and would lead to a loss of trust in the UN.
“It was sad to see a statement issued by the UN, not using information from their local office staff, but quoting unreliable information and issuing the statement. These accusations are unacceptable,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“By acting like this, it will mean the local people will have more concerns, doubts and less trust in the UN.”
The Burmese government on Wednesday took representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, local members of Parliament and religious leaders to visit Du Chee Yar Tan. Ye Htut insisted that the delegation found nothing wrong in the village during the trip and insisted that representatives were able to talk to local people, including Muslim leaders.
He suggested the reports of killings were designed to damage the Burma government’s reputation.
“I believe that these rumors were spread at the same time we were having the Asean meeting, and as well as while the UN envoy [to Burma] Mr. Vijay Nambiar visited the country,” said Ye Htut, referring to a meeting of regional foreign ministers that took place in Bagan on Jan. 17.
“Those who spread the rumor instigate to make tension where there is peace already in the village,” said Ye Htut.
Violence between Arakanese Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims has broken out sporadically in Arakan State since mid-2012, leading to scores dead and at least 140,000 displaced, mostly Muslims. International rights groups say the violence, which has also hit non-Rohingya Muslims in other parts of the country, threatens to undermine the progress of reforms in Burma.
The latest killings allegedly took place both in the run up to, and following, the disappearance of a police officer on Jan. 13. That incident allegedly provoked a violent attack on Rohingya villagers by security forces and Arakanese Buddhists.
“The United Nations has received credible information that, on 9 January, eight Rohingya Muslim men were attacked and killed in Du Chee Yar Tan village by local [Arakanese],” the UN statement said. “This was followed by a clash on 13 January in the same village in which a police sergeant was captured and killed by the Rohingya villagers. Following this, on the same evening at least 40 Rohingya Muslim men, women and children were killed in Du Chee Yar Tan village by police and local [Arakanese].”
“I deplore the loss of life in Du Chee Yar Tan and call on the authorities to carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation and ensure that victims and their families receive justice,” Pillay was quoted saying in the statement. “My Office stands ready to support this process.”
Pillay asked authorities to respond “quickly and decisively” to the reports, and to ensure that the rights of 10 Rohingya men who reportedly remain detained are respected. The statement said the UN had shared its information on the incident with the Burma government
The state-owned New Light of Myanmar on Thursday reported that only the disappearance of the police officer, and his firearm, was being investigated. The newspaper gave an account of the events that said a mob of 500 Rohingya confronted police and captured the officer. The police later returned to make arrests, but there were no reprisals, the report said.
But the Burma government is facing increasing pressure over the allegations and continued restrictions on access to the area in question. The embassies of the United States and Britain have already called for a transparent investigation, as has the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana.
On Thursday, Valerie Amos, the UN’s under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, also called on the government “to immediately launch an impartial investigation into these events and to respect the rights of those arrested and detained in connection with this incident.”
On Friday, medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which works in Arakan State, issued a statement saying it had treated Rohingya injured during the incident.
MSF Myanmar Head of Mission Peter-Paul de Groote was quoted saying that “MSF has treated at least 22 patients, including several wounded, that are believed to be victims of the violence that erupted in Du Char Yar Tan village, in southern Maungdaw Township on January 14.
“MSF continues to be concerned by reports that there may be unmet medical needs among the affected population and stands ready to support local health authorities in providing medical care to those in need. We continue to request the Government of Myanmar to enable safe access to the affected population for humanitarian personnel and ensure the security of the civilian population in need of assistance.”
Speaking at a press conference in Naypyidaw on Thursday, Shwe Mann, the Lower House speaker in Burma’s Parliament said he had not received any reports about the incident in Maungdaw, and therefore could not discuss the possibility of a parliamentary investigation.
“We did not get any report from the ground. We do not know about it. If we get a report from the ground, we could discuss this issue in Parliament,” he said.