RANGOON — A new government commission set up to investigate recent violence in northern Arakan State will try to establish the “root cause” of the death of a policeman said to have been killed by a Rohingya mob on Jan. 13, but does not say if it will address allegations made by the United Nations that almost 50 Rohingyas were killed either side of the policeman’s disappearance.
While specifying probing the death of policeman Aung Kyaw Thein, the commission remit mentions only other “deaths and injuries and loss of property in the incidents,” with regard to alleged violence in Maungdaw Township in northern Arakan State during January.
The new inquiry features both Arakanese Buddhist and Muslim representatives and was announced in the state mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar on Feb. 7, and will be headed by Dr Tha Hla Shwe of of the Myanmar Red Cross Society. It is expected to report its findings to President Thein Sein’s government by the end of February.
Other commissioners include Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing, an advisor to the Burma President Thein Sein, and Tun Aung Chein of the soon-to-be-revamped Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, which this week concluded that it found no evidence of the alleged massacres of Rohingyas in Du Chee Yar Tan village.
Violence between Arakanese Muslims – not only Rohingya but other groups such as Kaman – and Arakanese Buddhists has killed scores and left 140,000 people displaced since 2012.
The Burmese government has vehemently denied any killings of Rohingyas took place. Ye Htut, the spokesman of the President’s Office, told The Irrawaddy in January that the claims, which emerged during Burma’s hosting of a meeting of regional foreign ministers, were a cover-up by villagers after the policeman went missing in action.
The government subsequently alleged on Jan. 24 that the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a little-known Islamic militant group, was involved in the killing of the policeman.
Myo Thant, a Rangoon-based Rohingya politician representing the Democracy and Human Rights Party, which does not have any seats in Burma’s Parliament, said that he thinks the newly-announced inquiry is about “buying time” for the government, and said that an independent, international probe is needed.
“Unless there is an international investigation, there will be no truth about what happened in Maungdaw Township,” he said.
The United States and others have called for an independent international investigation, a request that was shot down by the government, which maintains that the Rohingyas, who are stateless and live under severe restrictions in northern Arakan State, are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A European Union statement released earlier this week, after a delegation comprising ambassadors from several EU countries concluded a four day fact-finding visit to Arakan, said that the delegations took note of Arakanese Buddhist’s “request that all people of Rakhine State should respect the rule of law, in particular the 1982 Citizenship Law.”
David Scott Mathieson, a Burma-focused analyst for Human Rights Watch, which earlier this week met with Burma President Thein Sein, said that the EU delegation statement, “reflects more their own interests in development projects and appeasing the government than speaking out strongly against violence and hate speech.”
“The only way to ensure urgently needed protection for the Rohingya population is for the international community to speak out strongly against the local actors that perpetuate that violence and the national officials who have largely failed in their duty to protect this highly vulnerable minority,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The EU statement was released prior to the announcement Friday of the new government inquiry, but said that, “We welcome the President’s commitment to launch an independent investigation into the events in Duu Chee Yar Tan village in order to swiftly shed light on the events, and thereby address the rumors that continue to circulate.”
Arakanese politicians said they oppose any international investigation into the incident, and commended the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission for its recent work in the fraught region. “They inquire about the news openly, they give the true news,” said Khin Maung Latt of the Arakan National Party (ANP) who said he expects the new inquiry to do what he sees as a similarly-effective job.
On Wednesday night, ANP leader Dr Aye Maung survived what is being described as a drive-by assassination attempt in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s biggest city, where he was visiting Arakanese migrant workers in one of the region’s three majority-Muslim countries. “I think Rohingya in Malaysia tried to kill him,” said Khin Maung Latt.
In January, Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natelagawa told The Irrawaddy that while Burma’s neighbors agree with the Burmese government’s view that sectarian violence in Burma is an internal matter, it nonetheless has wider implications. Clashes between Buddhist and Muslim Burmese migrants left several dead in Malaysia during 2013, while the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta was subject of an Islamist terror plot earlier in 2013.