Myanmar President Thein Sein on Friday appointed a commission to probe the death of a policeman which had sparked what was described as revenge killings of at least 40 Rohingya Muslims by Buddhist mobs in western Rakhine state last month.
The 10-member commission will probe the Jan. 13 death of a police sergeant in Du Chee Yar Tan (Ducheertan) village in Maungdaw township and a Jan. 28 fire in a nearby village, according to orders for the panel published in state media Friday.
The orders, signed by President Thein Sein, wanted the panel to investigate “deaths and injuries and loss of property in the [two] incidents” in Rakhine, a hotbed of communal violence between minority Muslim Rohingyas and majority Buddhist Rakhines.
But the orders made no mention of allegations by the U.N. that at least 40 Rohingya men, women, and children were killed the same night after the police sergeant was killed by Rohingya villagers and that eight Rohingya men were killed by Rakhines in the village earlier, on Jan. 9.
In making the allegations, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay cited what she called "credible" information which she said has already been shared with the Myanmar government.
The U.N. also cited reports that 10 Rohingya men from Du Chee Yar Tan village had been detained, expressing concerns for their treatment in detention.
The Myanmar government has rejected the U.N. account of the incidents, saying it was based on “false reporting,” and rejected calls by the U.S., U.K., and U.N. for an international-assisted inquiry.
Aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), among a few international groups allowed to operate in the region, said last month that it had treated at least 22 patients with injuries believed to have resulted from violence in Maungdaw.
Thailand-based rights group Fortify Rights had said that it had spoken to witnesses and other sources who confirmed the killings.
The investigation commission, which includes Rakhine and Rohingya community leaders as well and representatives from local rights and ethnic reconciliation groups, will report on its findings to President Thein Sein by Feb. 28.
Commission chairman Tha Hla Shwe of the Myanmar Red Cross Society told RFA’s Myanmar Service that members of the panel would meet to begin their investigation “as soon as possible.”
Last month, Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin announced a separate inquiry by three government-appointed groups into the circumstances that led to the Maungdaw violence.
He said that the Central Committee for Rakhine State Peace, Stability and Development Implementation; the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission; and the Rakhine Conflict Investigation Commission would hold separate investigations into the killings.
The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission had concluded on Thursday that there was no evidence to support any allegations of a massacre in Du Chee Yar Tan, according to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma.
It is not known whether the other two groups have submitted their findings.
More than 200 people have been killed and tens of thousands left homeless since communal clashes erupted in Rakhine state in 2012, with rights groups saying Rohingyas bore the brunt of the violence.
The state is home to both Rakhines, a mostly Buddhist group officially recognized as one of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, and Rohingyas, who are considered illegal immigrants although many of them have lived in the country for generations.
The U.N. has referred to Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Tha Hla Shwe said local aid groups including the Myanmar Red Cross had been working to provide humanitarian aid to both Rohingyas and Rakhines in the state since last year’s violence.
“We have been providing health care, delivering clean water, building rest rooms, building temporary huts with the help of our partnership organizations and providing mobile clinics,” he said.
“We have been helping both sides,” he said, adding that the Myanmar Red Cross Society has not visited the Du Chee Ya Tar area since the clashes occurred.