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Myanmar gov’t still to name group behind Rakhine attack

By Kyaw Ye Lynn, Anadolu Agency

Finger pointed at shadowy militant group, drug traffickers, or those looking for excuse to trample rights of Muslim group

YANGON, Myanmar

Myanmar’s military has captured another suspected militant following deadly attacks on police stations in troubled western Rakhine State.

But six days on, authorities are still to name the group responsible, with police and authorities blaming a shadowy militant group, local drug traffickers, and others speculating that the attacks may have been a set up to further trample the rights of a local Muslim population.

The man — captured Thursday in Warpaik village in Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township during ongoing area clearance operations — is the fifth to be held since at least 39 people — nine police, four soldiers and 26 suspected attackers — were killed following attacks on three police station outposts in Maungdaw and Yathay Taung townships early Sunday.

The areas are predominantly occupied by the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim population, although none of the assailants have been identified.

On Thursday, 81 people were evacuated to places of safety by military helicopters after they were caught up in violence, according to the government.

A military officer among those trying to track down the perpetrators of the Sunday attacks told Anadolu Agency that circumstances in the villages were akin to a “rebellion” as villagers were attacking troops with “guns, knives and sticks”.

“We have had to open fire on them as they sometimes number hundreds of people,” the officer, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation, added.

He said the clearance operations could last for a month.

On Wednesday, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi told a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw that the government would not be prepared to “accuse anybody until we know clearly [who is behind the attack] and have solid evidence”.

According to a report in Myawady Daily, however, 24 Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) flags and 40 RSO badges were seized together along with a burnt MA-11 gun, 11 cartridges, and 1,510 rounds of ammunition Warpaik.

The RSO — a shadowy extremist group — takes its name from Rakhine’s stateless Rohingya — described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups.

Though most experts believe its existence is a myth, the government has classified RSO as an extremist group and officials blame it for recent attacks on border areas.

On Sunday, Rakhine upper house lawmaker Kyaw Kyaw Win told Anadolu Agency that the RSO had to be responsible, however a former Rohingya lower house lawmaker told Anadolu Agency Friday that the group had been extinguished long ago.

“The Bangladeshi government cracked down on the RSO two decades ago upon the request of Myanmar government,”said Shwe Maung, who from 2011-16 represented Maungdaw.

He added that the government had long blamed the RSO for the area’s problems, in an effort to darken the Rohingya name so that they could further persecute and oppress them.

“Since then, the RSO has stopped functioning and no activities by the group have been recorded,” Shwe Maung said in an email.

Hours after the Sunday attacks, Police Chief Zaw Win said they were trying to determine if the attacks were linked to drug traffickers, citing the seizure of huge amount of drugs as part of the government’s crackdown in the areas.

A senior police officer in Rakhine State’s capital Sittwe has claimed that the attacks had been planned by traffickers.

“They want the areas to be unstable so that they can do their business easily,” the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he has no authority to speak to media, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.

An international human rights group is demanding that police focus on doing a professional, transparent and credible investigation based on facts, and then present their findings, rather than recklessly speculating aloud about their theories at press conferences.

“The biggest problem is that Myanmar fails time and time again to do real investigations,” Phil Robertson said in an email sent to Anadolu Agency on Friday.

The government of Myanmar should focus on facts and conducting a real investigation that does not show favor to either side, he said, underlining that the previous government had failed to do a credible investigation after violence in the area in 2012.

In 2012, violence between the local Buddhist and Muslim community left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned — most of which belonged to Rohingya.

“And it looks like they are going down the same failed path again.”