Communal violence is grinding on in western Myanmar six weeks after the government declared a state of emergency there and Muslim Rohingyas are increasingly being attacked, Amnesty International said.
A government spokesman for Rakhine state, which was engulfed by a wave of bloody unrest in June, called the allegations made on Friday groundless and biased. Amnesty’s claims are “totally opposite of what is happening on the ground,” spokesman Win Myaing said, adding that the region was calm.
Also on Friday, the new US ambassador to Myanmar announced a donation of US$3 million in food aid to northern areas of the country affected by fighting between government troops and ethnic militias.
Amnesty International accused both security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of carrying out new attacks against Rohingyas, who are seen as foreigners by the ethnic majority and denied citizenship by the government because it considers them illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh.
After a series of isolated killings starting in late May that left victims on both sides, bloody skirmishes quickly spread across much of Rakhine state. The government declared a state of emergency on June 10, deploying troops to quell the unrest and protect both mosques and monasteries. Authorities said at least 78 people were killed and thousands of homes were burned down or destroyed — with the damage roughly split evenly between Buddhists and Muslims.
The worst of the violence subsided late last month, but communal violence has ground on. Now, Amnesty said, it is being directed mostly at the Rohingya population.
Attacks over the last six weeks have been “primarily one-sided, with Muslims generally and Rohingyas specifically the targets and victims,” Benjamin Zawacki, a Bangkok-based researcher for Amnesty said. “Some of this is by the security forces’ own hands, some by Rakhine Buddhists with the security forces turning a blind eye in some cases.”
The group also said security forces, including the police and the army, had conducted huge sweeps detaining hundreds of Rohingyas who are being held “incommunicado.”
“While the restoration of order, security, and the protection of human rights is necessary, most arrests appear to have been arbitrary and discriminatory, violating the rights to liberty and to freedom from discrimination on grounds of religion,” Amnesty said in a statement.
Win Myaing, the government spokesman, said security forces had arrested at least 100 Muslims in the northern Rakhine state town of Maungdaw, but he said the arrests were not discriminatory. Muslims account for more than 95 percent of the population in the town, he said, and it is natural they would comprise most of the arrests there.
Iran urged the UN to take action to protect the Rohingyas.
“We believe that ethnic and religious cleansing against Muslims under whatever pretext is unjustifiable and inexcusable under international law, and the UN must take urgent measures” to protect the Rohingyas by calling on Myanmar’s government to end its “crackdown,” Iran’s UN ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, said in a letter on Friday to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ambassador Derek Mitchell announced on Friday that the US$3 million food aid donation for displaced people in Shan and Kachin states in northern Myanmar would be delivered through the UN World Food Program.