MORE than 100 members of the Rohingya minority group have been killed in government counterinsurgency sweeps in the western state of Rakhine, said advocates of the Muslim community.
Ko Ko Linn of the Arakan Rohingya National Organization said by phone Wednesday that according to villagers, at least 150 people have been killed by security forces since Saturday. He alleged that the government sought to cover up the killings by barring the media and aid groups from the area.
“The reason why the international news agencies and aid groups are not allowed to go there is because the military is trying to cover up what they are doing there, the killings and other things,” Ko Ko Linn said, as quoted by The Associated Press.
“They are lying.”
On Tuesday, the government acknowledged the deaths of 69 “violent attackers” and 17 members of the security forces. The attackers were not identified, but the army has aligned with Rakhine Buddhists against the Rohingya.
The government said the attackers burned down hundreds of homes, but rights groups blame the army for the actions.
The United States on Tuesday called for Burma to do more to stem violence in Rakhine.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said a U.S. delegation holding previously scheduled talks in Burma urged the government to “improve transparency.”
The U.S. also repeated its call for an independent investigation and humanitarian access.
Press Office Director Trudeau: We are concerned about a spike in violence in Burma's Rakhine State. https://t.co/8mUMVYwbYm
— Department of State (@StateDept) November 15, 2016
Tensions have been high in Rakhine since fighting in 2012 between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. Last month, nine police were killed in attacks on guard posts blamed on Muslim insurgents, prompting a government crackdown. Human rights groups have accused government forces of burning down Rohingya villages.
The violence and persecution of Rohingya threatens to overshadow Myanmar’s historic transition to civilian rule.
— Jan Kooy (@KooyJan) November 16, 2016
— Jan Kooy (@KooyJan) November 14, 2016
Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who heads a commission appointed by Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate the cause of tensions in Rakhine, echoed the concerns by the U.S., the AP reported.
“As chair of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, I wish to express my deep concern over the recent violence in northern Rakhine state, which is plunging the state into renewed instability and creating new displacement,” Annan said in a statement Tuesday.
“All communities must renounce violence and I urge the security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reiterated its call on the Burmese government to allow human rights monitors and independent journalists prompt and unfettered access to the restive state to investigate alleged widespread property destruction and other rights abuses.
On Wednesday, Burma’s Office of the State Counsellor disputed a Human Rights Report on the total number of buildings destroyed by unknown assailants.
HRW had used satellite imagery to identify 430 destroyed buildings but, Zaw Htay, deputy director general of the President’s Office, said the number was exagerrated based on images collected on Nov 15 by a Burmese military helicopter.
Zaw Htay also denied allegations of rape and sexual violence committed by security forces against Rohingya women and girls during the military’s “clearance operations.”
The government also said it would lift restrictions on non-state media access to the area, which has been on lock-down since Oct 9, but provided no time-frame for doing so.
Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said the government’s confirmation of widespread fire damage in northern Rakhine State and offer to allow media access is a step toward getting at the truth of what transpired.
— africa.1 (@hoker10) November 13, 2016
“But this is long overdue. Prompt and unhindered access to affected areas for independent investigations by the media and human rights organizations is crucial,” Adams said in a statement.
Adams said the army’s use of “oblique” angle photographs taken from helicopters to assess the extent of the destruction is “flawed and inadequate”
“Very high resolution satellite imagery recorded both before and after the attacks provide a more accurate picture of the damage that has occurred over the past month,” he said.
“But even this limited amount of information shows the urgent need for free access for impartial investigations by human rights organizations, and the media.”
Additional reporting by the Associated Press