Six suspects detained in Thandwe Township have confessed to the murder of seven Muslims and 28 suspects are being charged with setting fire dozens of Muslim-owned homes during recent inter-communal violence in southern Arakan State, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.
A total of 78 people were detained following the recent outburst of anti-Muslim violence by Arakanese Buddhists, state-owned newspaper The New Light of Myanmar quoted the ministry as saying on Tuesday.
A local Muslim villager said 21 of the detained were Muslims.
On Sept. 29-Oct. 3, Buddhist mobs attacked seven ethnic Kaman Muslim villages, killing seven villagers, destroying 112 homes and forcing almost 500 Kaman villagers to flee.
“According to the investigations, four suspects confessed to killing two people in Linthi village, two admitted to killing five in [Thapyu Kyain] village and 28 were found guilty of setting fire to houses,” the newspaper wrote.
“Plans are underway to take actions against the 34 suspects in accordance with the law and remaining suspects are under investigation,” the ministry was quoted as saying, adding that it was investigating the identity of “the mastermind” behind the violence.
Five suspects were released this week due to a “lack of evidence,” the ministry also said.
Thandwe Township police Lt-Col Kyaw Tint from Thandwe told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the five were released as “they are not needed in these cases… Regarding the remaining suspects, the Special Cases investigation team is working on it, and I have no authority to talk about it.”
He added that “the security situation on the ground is stable.”
The five released suspects are Arakanese Thandwe residents Win Ko Lay, Htay Aung, Soe Soe, Kyi Naing and unnamed one youth, said a family member of Win Ko Lay, adding that they were detained for about 12 days.
“We did not know under which charges [Win Ko Lay] was detained, there was no explanation,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “We were able to provide him with food and medicine when he was in Thandwe Prison as he is under medication for high blood pressure.”
The violence coincided with President Thein Sein’s first visit to the troubled Arakan State since inter-communal erupted in June last year, killing almost 200 people and displacing 140,000 civilians, mostly Rohingya Muslims.
Since the visit, the Home Affairs Ministry’s Special Cases team has become involved in the investigation into the unrest in Thandwe. Shortly after the first violence, two Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) members were arrested, along with two members of a local nationalist Buddhist civil society organization.
The RNDP and local Buddhist leaders in northern Arakan State have been accused by the US-based Human Rights Watch of organizing the anti-Muslim violence last year, with tacit support from government forces who are viewed as being sympathetic to Buddhist perpetrators.
Kaman Muslim villagers have complained that security forces did little to protect them and stop the recent mob attacks in Thandwe Township.
Kyaw Zwa Oo, a Kaman man from Pauktaw village told the Irrawaddy on Tuesday, that villagers were given safety assurances by the high-level officials following Thein Sein’s visit.
He said the Kaman, nonetheless, were feared returning to their villages, where they were attacked.
“The authorities, including the ministers, told us not to worry and that they will take care of those who committed the crimes,” Kyaw Zaw Oo said. “But, there are still rumors going around and we are living in fear.”
In Pauktaw village, he said, 36 houses where about 150 people lived were burned down, adding that authorities had provided about US$100 per family to support the reconstruction of their homes.
According to Kyaw Zwa Oo, several Kaman villagers were also arrested for their suspected role in the violence.
“As far as I know 21 Kaman are among the suspects, and heard that their trail will begin in October 18,” he said, adding that one suspect had been arrested in Pauktaw, 12 Linthi and eight in Thapyu Kyain village.