Thu 30 Jan 2014
Filed under: Human Rights,Inside Burma,News,Religion
Police and fire fighters have said that a fire that broke out on Tuesday night in Du Char Yar Tan village in Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State, was premeditated.
The fire burnt down 16 houses and caused a total damage of Ks 1.5 million (US$ 1,500) and came in the wake of international media and U.N. reports over the massacre of over 40 Bengalis in the area.
The government has strongly denied these reports but continues to severely restrict access to both local and foreign media, as well as denying any humanitarian assistance. Fire services and police at the scene have claimed that the recent fire was planned by local residents who fled the scene.
“We inspected the place and how the fire started. Our men managed to prevent two huts from catching fire and on the roof of one hut, we found strings of straw knots connected to the other hut’s roof. That means someone had planned it in advance,” said Myat Naing, in-charge of Maungdaw Township Fire Station.
Du Char Yar Tan (West) village is in Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine State. The village lies seven miles away from Maungdaw town and has suffered reprisal attacks against Bengalis following the reported abduction and killing of a police officer.
Myanmar’s western Rakhine State has been grappling with sectarian violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Bengalis communities since June 2012.
“We cannot say who set the fire, but it is not an accidental fire. Some say they saw the residents flee wearing shorts. They fled as they were afraid of the fire. Some have returned to the village. No one has been arrested regarding with the fire,” said the regional MP Aung Myo Min, who met with security forces and the local people after the incident.
An investigation by the U.N. confirmed initial reports by the Associated Press that 48 Bengalis had been killed between January 8 and 14 in two separate incidents in Du Char Yar Tan village.
“I deplore the loss of life in Du Chee Yar Tan and call on the authorities to carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation and ensure that victims and their families receive justice,” said the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, along with other government officials recently criticised journalists and the U.N. for reporting false information, saying that such reports would only cause more instability.
“Organisations should release reports based on reliable sources. Groundless information could exacerbate the situation and harm the rule of law,” said Lt-Gen Ko Ko, the minister for Home Affairs at a recent briefing.
Various diplomatic missions, including the embassies of the United States and United Kingdom, released joint statements also deploring the recent violence, and urging the government to hold those responsible accountable.
Authorities say that there are currently no villagers left in Du Chee Yar Tan after everyone fled the recent violence carrying their possessions. Security forces are still present and have blamed Bengalis for instigating the violence.
“We have to deploy more security forces to patrol places. We cannot know when such things will happen. Some media say ethnic people are attacking Bengalis. I’d like to reply them to look at who are the majority in these areas,” said Kyi San, Mangdaw Township Chief Administration Officer.
Presidential spokesperson Ye Htut has been adamant in denying reports and said in a statement that they were based on groundless information.
“Such action by the U.N. can increase mistrust in Rakhine State. The local people will lose confidence on the U.N. organisations,” said Ye Htut.
Four U.N. staff were recently granted entry to Maungdaw Township and the humanitarian aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, said it has treated 22 patients, some with wounds. It appealed to the government to allow safe access to the affected families, many of whom are still in hiding.