Monday, September 25, 2017

Deaths prompt calls for security reform

Recent killings in Rakhine State have dashed hopes that the disbandment of the controversial Na Sa Ka border security force would ease tensions in the conflict-hit region, sources in the area say.

Police look on as a building burns in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe in June 2012. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)Police look on as a building burns in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe in June 2012. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)

At least three Muslims died – one after allegedly being tortured – in the Sittwe area earlier this month amid clashes between IDP camp residents and police.

Muslim IDPs and community leaders told The Myanmar Times that the disbandment of Na Sa Ka on July 12 has had little impact on the conduct of security forces in the state.

“[T]here needs to be a properly trained and disciplined force to look after security in this area. The police at the moment are not properly trained and that is a serious problem. When people were injured in the shooting the police did not take them to the hospital,” said U Aung Win, a spokesman for the Rohingya, or Bengali, community in Sittwe.

While the Na Sa Ka was mostly based in the border townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, it has regularly been deployed in other parts of the state since violence broke out in June 2012, sources said.

A resident of the Baw Du Ba camp, where at least one person died after being shot by police on August 9, said the situation was “just the same” as when the Na Sa Ka was in charge.

“We are very disappointed in the police and we do not want the police to stay here. If they did not stay here there would be no violence. Most police members are Rakhine people and so they are hostile to the Rohingya,” he said.

The Baw Du Ba resident said the tense confrontation was only brought under control when the army arrived and told camp residents that if they returned to their dwellings the soldiers would ensure the police left the camp. He said people in the camps had some faith in the army but none in the police.

Rakhine State government spokesman U Win Myaing told reporters that the violence in the camps last week had been arranged by Rohingya to coincide with the visit of United Nations human rights envoy Tomas Quintana.

“They want to show to the international community the Rakhine State government is neglecting them,” he said.

Mr Quintana arrived in Myanmar on August 11. The first stop on his 10-day mission was Rakhine State, where he was greeted by Rakhine protesters who accused him of bias in favour of the area’s Muslim community.

During his visit the UN refugee agency called for dialogue between IDPs and the government. “We believe this is key to avoiding further violence,” the agency’s spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva on August 13.

The recent violence was sparked by the discovery of the body of a Muslim fisherman near the Aung Daw Ji camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside of Sittwe in the early hours of August 9, which prompted protests at the Aung Daw Ji that resulted in a police station being set on fire. Residents at nearby Baw Du Ba camps then set up roadblocks to stop police officers from reinforcing their colleagues at Aung Daw Ji.

Police opened fire on the protesters at both camps, killing two and leaving about a dozen seriously injured, including a 13-year-old boy. Another two men reportedly died in the shootings but The Myanmar Times was unable to confirm this.

“At about 6pm the police [in Baw Du Ba] opened fire and one man was killed and eight injured,” the Baw Du Pa camp resident said.

The man who died had been shot in the back and witnesses said he had been leaving the protest when he was fatally wounded.

Police said the fisherman had died in an accident but his body showed signs of battery, including head injuries, missing front teeth and skin blistering that his widow said looked as if it had been caused by boiling water.

Sources within the camp claimed the 48-year-old man had been attacked and killed by police after he told other residents he had witnessed officers consorting with a prostitute.

U Aung Win said a “proper investigation” was needed into how the fisherman had died – a call that was echoed by the man’s 35-year-old widow.

She also called on the authorities to restore peace in the IDP camps.

“The government needs to control the police,” she said. “I want to say to the authorities to keep the law and order so there can be peace in the camps and life can be better.”

The deaths have put the spotlight back onto security officials in Rakhine State following the abolition of Na Sa Ka by President U Thein Sein on July 12 just prior to his visit to Europe. The announcement came after three women were shot dead by police in Mrauk Oo township on June 4 and two IDPs were reported killed in Pauktaw township on June 27.

Na Sa Ka, or “Border Immigration Headquarters”, was an inter-agency force established in 1992 made up of approximately 1200 immigration, police, intelligence and customs officials. It was accused of serious human-rights violations against the Rohingya by a number of international organisations.

State government sources in Rakhine confirmed to The Myanmar Times last week that ministers there had not been alerted to the plans before the president’s announcement.

David Mathieson, a Myanmar researcher with Human Rights Watch, described the disbandment of the agency as a “hollow gesture”.

“The Rakhine State authorities and national government have to end the culture of abuse and impunity that the police force enjoys in these areas, and that must include the complete removal of all former Na Sa Ka personnel and prosecuting members of the police or military that abuse any members of the Muslim or Rakhine Buddhist communities,” he said.

“Three fatal shooting [incidents] in a couple of months demonstrate the systematic repression of the Rohingya population in IDP camps ... and the failure of the security forces to guarantee their safety.”