Photo: Rohingya IDPs in Rakhine State (Evangelos Petratos/EU-ECHO/Flickr)
A government commission tasked with investigating a series of incidents at Duchira Dan [Du Char Yar Tan] in northern Arakan State released its findings to the public today.
The commission investigated a number of events that occurred in mid-January, centred on the disappearance and presumed murder of Police Sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein on January 13 and the contested massacres of more than 40 Rohingya men, women and children before and after his disappearance.
The government’s steadfast refusal to allow an international investigation into the incident at Duchira Dan led the UN’s outgoing Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, to question the commission’s impartiality last month.
The massacres were documented in a confidential report by the United Nations and reported on by a number of media outlets, although the government categorically denies they occurred. According to a summary of the commission’s final report shared with the media, the delegation interviewed 175 residents of Maungdaw Township in northern Arakan, where Duchira Dan is located, between 15-21 February.
“We do confirm that there’s every likelihood police sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein had been murdered by the villagers from Duchira Dan,” Daw Yin Yin Nwe, a member of the commission and former high-ranking UNICEF official, told reporters at the Myanmar Peace Centre on Tuesday. “It’s quite unlikely… that he’s still alive.”
The commission dismissed reports that the security services were responsible for burning Rohingya homes and conducting wide-scale looting, claiming that the arson was committed by “an entity seeking to discredit the present Government of Myanmar [Burma], and not by the police or by the Rakhine [Arakan] community as alleged.”
While the summary report does not overtly state the oft-repeated claim that the Rohingya burned down their own homes to elicit international sympathy, passages in the report refer to “Bengali networks… both inside and outside [using] the systemic weakness of Myanmar… to manipulate international media with false allegations… with the intention of destabilising the country’s reforms.”
Daw Yin Yin Nwe denied the massacres occurred, and rebutted the allegations presented by the UN and media. “There were a lot of claims on international websites… that there was all these killings, and that, for instance, some of these killings were pretty gruesome,” she said. “However, the commission concluded that the purported deaths did not happen.” She claimed that the names of victims cited on Rohingya websites did not align with local immigration records. “[It] means the names were cooked up,” she said.
Although the report states that “the issue of the citizenship of the Bengalis [Rohingya], if not resolved, will only create further problems,” the commission recommends citizenship rights be conferred under the existing 1982 citizenship law, the adoption of which rendered most Rohingya stateless.
But commission member Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing claims that at least some Rohingya will have their citizenship reinstated. “If the government makes the citizenship assessment on the basis of the 1982 law, people will be granted citizenship,” he said. “Right now, the citizenship law is the law, and it is what we must base it on when it comes to citizenship issues.”
On Sunday morning, a fire broke out in central Duchira Dan village, which the state-run New Light of Myanmar reports destroyed 12 houses and a small religious building. The report claimed Rohingya residents intentionally set fire to their own homes.
Shwe Than, superintendent of Maungdaw District Police, said the information reported by the newspaper report was accurate. “The information we have on the incident is same from the newspaper report – there is nothing more to add,” he said.
Chris Lewa, the founder and coordinator of advocacy group The Arakan Project, does not believe foul play is involved. “According to my field team, the fire was accidental,” Lewa said. “A woman was cooking and her house caught fire, which spread to other houses.”