Amid a dearth of independently verifiable information coming out of heavily militarised northern Rakhine State, a report that hundreds of Muslims were recently forced from their village was met with twin denials yesterday.

Major General Kyaw Naing Soe, a Tatmadaw officer who has temporarily taken charge at the Kyikan Pyin Border Guard Police command post checkpoint, refuted an October 24 Reuters report that some 2000 Muslim residents of Kyikan Pyin village were ordered out. The report cited the accounts of four sources identifying as members of the Muslim Rohingya, a largely stateless group that has faced state-sanctioned discrimination for years.

Tatmadaw troops and police in the area were conducting routine operational clearance in the area, Maj Gen Kyaw Naing Soe told The Myanmar Times yesterday, adding that security forces were in fact encouraging Muslims found to have fled into the surrounding hills and rice paddies to return to their homes and cooperate with authorities.

“We did not force any Muslim residents from their homes. We actually urged them to return home when we saw them. At the moment, some innocent Muslim residents have already returned home and are staying there normally,” he said.

U Kyaw Kyaw Oo, deputy head of the Maungdaw district administrative department, echoed that assertion.

“As far as I’m aware, all parties, including government and army authorities, are calling for [Muslims] to return home as they did not commit nor were involved with the attack,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Oo, referring to a coordinated October 9 assault on three Border Guard Police posts in Maungdaw and neighbouring Rathedaung townships. “So the army would not be forcing them from home at all.”

He acknowledged that the discovery of a firearm and attacks on security forces near Kyikan Pyin village in the days following the deadly October 9 attack has led them to adopt an intensive anti-insurgency posture, but he insisted human rights violations were not occurring.

U Kyaw Min, chair of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, told The Myanmar Times that members of his party – which has ties to northern Rakhine State’s Rohingya population – had heard accounts of the military instructing Muslim residents to return to their homes when they encountered them in paddy fields. He said he had not heard of Muslims being forced from their homes.

“The situation may be that for various [reasons] Muslim residents fled, because the attacks are complicated and hard to explain. However, I believe that the innocent Muslim residents had no plan to flee and they may have fled due to anxiety, but we are concerned that there will be human rights violations with ordinary Muslim residents,” he said.

According to state media, at least 30 suspected militants have been killed by security forces in the initial attacks and a subsequent manhunt that has seen the military lock down northern Rakhine State. Many arrests have also been made, most or all of them likely to have been Muslims, given that the government has said the border post assailants were inspired by radical Islam.

Maj Gen Kyaw Naing Soe said the security situation had improved in northwest Maungdaw township, where two of the attacks took place.

He said it had been days since any clashes had been reported.

“The conditions are getting normal of late. However, the security forces continue operating because of the need to be sure to clear [the area of insurgents] and ensure safety for residents definitively,” he said.

He added that many residents from both Muslim and Buddhist communities had returned to their villages after fleeing in the attacks’ immediate aftermath.