World Bulletin / News Desk
With the Kofi Anan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine set to fly to Myanmar's western-most state to probe alleged human rights violations, government officials have been quick to underline that nowhere is out of bounds.
Human Right groups have suggested that local officials have been distorting the weight of the allegations, with Rohingya groups claiming four times as many deaths as the government, and the army claiming that it was Rohingya who burnt hundreds of their homes -- not soldiers -- in an effort to evoke international sympathy.
On Thursday, a senior Rakhine regional government official told Anadolu Agency that the commission can visit “anywhere they want” in the area predominantly occupied by the country's Rohingya Muslim community.
“The commission informs us they also want to probe the allegations as part of their visit,” said the man, who did not wish to be named given the sensitivity of the information, .
“So we said, why not?”
Since nine police officers died in Oct. 9 attacks, soldiers have been accused of numerous human rights violations in the area -- including sexual assaults.
Rohingya advocacy groups claim around 400 Rohingya have been killed in military operations in the north of the state since the Oct. 9 deaths of nine Myanmar border police officials, while Myanmar says just 86 people -- 17 soldiers and 69 alleged "attackers" -- have been killed.
Humanitarian outfits have subsequently called for independent investigations into the initial attacks, the ongoing operations and reported rapes and rights abuses, as rights groups and international reporters have been unable to enter the area as it is under military lockdown.
On Monday, commission member and chief convener for the Islamic Centre of Myanmar Aye Lwin told Anadolu Agency that Annan would arrive Tuesday for the mission.
“He will visit [Myanmar capital] Nay Pyi Taw and Rakhine State,” said Aye Lwin, who is also a founding member of the interfaith organization Religions for Peace.
The Nobel laureate was selected in August to chair the Advisory Commission on Rakhine, with the aim of finding lasting solutions to “complex and delicate issues” in Myanmar's westernmost area.
Annan and commission members are now set to arrive in Rakhine capital Sittwe on Friday where they will meet leaders from both Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities.
Commission member Khin Saw Tint told Anadolu Agency that after Anan had met the commission members in the country’s commercial capital Yangon, they would all journey "to visit several places in Rakhine for three days”.
“We will observe the situation, and talk to people affected by the recent conflicts in the area,” said Khin Saw Tint, who also serves as chair of the Rakhine Literature and Culture Association and is vice-chair of the Rakhine Women's Association.
She underlined that the commission is set to visit Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine, which has been under military lockdown since Oct.9. when armed men attacked police stations near the Bangladesh border.
Annan first visited Rakhine -- one of the poorest regions in Myanmar -- prior to the attacks in which police killed and weapons were stolen.
State counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has since been slammed for including foreign nationals in the nine-person commission, nationalists saying it should not include outsiders as Rakhine is Myanmar's own internal problem.
According to government figure, at least 488 people have been detained for alleged involvement in the Oct. 9 attacks, along with subsequent alleged attacks on military conducting clearance operations in the area.
At least 30,000 civilians have been displaced due to the violence in Maungdaw, where activists and human rights groups accuse the Myanmar military of carrying out killings, rapes, looting and burning over a thousand houses in Rohingya villages.
There has been no independent verification of the alleged attacks or arrests as access to the area has been under military control since the initial incident.
During his visit, Annan is also due to hold meetings with army chief Min Aung Hlaing and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in political capital Nay Pyi Taw.
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