An investigation team appointed by the government has refuted allegations that up to 48 Muslims were killed in northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw township in January and accused the international community of inflaming tensions.
Commission head Dr Tha Hla Shwe said at a press conference on March 11 that the team found no evidence that killings had taken place in the Muslim village of Du Chee Yar Tan during field assessments conducted between February 15 and 21.
“We didn't see any evidence of murder and we didn't find a place where bodies were buried so we can't say many people were brutally killed,” said U Tha Hla Shwe, who is also chair of the Myanmar Red Cross Society.
The commission said in its report to President U Thein Sein that it believed the only person killed in Du Chee Yar Tan was Police Sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein. While his body has not been recovered, the commission said he was likely murdered by Du Chee Yar Tan residents on January 13.
The commission report said that “the Du Chee Yar Tan incident became inflated from the murder of a policeman, to rising inter-ethnic tensions and accusations of atrocities due to the actions of international media and the international organisations who disseminated unchecked reports.”
The government has come under international pressure to conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the Du Chee Yar Tan allegations. The commission’s report is unlikely to satisfy many observers, who allege that the results were a foregone conclusion, and it could be raised at a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting on March 17.
Speaking at a press conference last month, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Tomás Quintana said he had received information that human rights violations took place, including “the brutal killing of men, women and children, sexual violence against women, and the looting and burning of properties”.
He said that the “domestic investigations have failed to satisfactorily address these serious allegations” but would wait and see the commission’s report before making a final judgement.
He warned, however, that if it fails to meet international standards he will push the Human Rights Council to “establish a credible investigation to uncover the truth of what happened” in collaboration with the Myanmar authorities.
At the press conference, held at the Myanmar Peace Center, investigation commission members also rejected accusations that local police, who are ethnic Rakhine, were involved in any violence against local residents.
“Police might have been more rough or aggressive than necessary when searching their houses after [Pol Sgt Aung Kyaw Thein] had disappeared but we can't accuse the police of actually destroying the villagers’ houses,” commission secretary U Kyaw Yin Hlaing said.
He made the comment in response to a question from an Irrawaddy reporter who has visited the village as to why many houses in Du Chee Yar Tan had been destroyed, many belongings were stolen and people were missing shortly after Pol Sgt Aung Kyaw Thein disappeared.
U Kyaw Yin Hlaing said residents had fled Du Chee Yar Tan because they were scared of the police and do not trust them. They generally remain in hiding all day, and he said this highlighted the lack of security in Maungdaw.
However, the commission’s views on the burning of homes in the village differed from that of the Ministry of Information and senior government officials, who have repeatedly accused Muslims of burning their own homes.
The largest fire occurred on January 28, when 16 homes were destroyed. State media said the Muslim residents “ran away after setting fire to their houses”. On March 9 there was another fire in the village, with the state-run New Light of Myanmar quoting unnamed eyewitnesses as saying “some villagers burnt their own houses”.
It also rejected allegations police were involved, saying instead that the homes were probably burned “by an organisation for political profit”.
“It is impossible [residents] burned their own houses but also it was not the police, so we conclude that some organisation must have been involved,” U Tha Hla Shwe said. “We can't say for sure whether it was a Rakhine or Bengali organisation though.”