From December 19 to 22, twelve media persons were invited by the Myanmar Government to visit Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Yathedaung, Sittway and some other villages in the troubled Rakhine State. The arrangements were made by the Information Ministry. Mizzima's Editor-in-Chief Soe Myint, one of the 12 media persons, talks to Mizzima about his experiences during the visit.
Please tell me briefly about your visit?
We visited some border police outposts that came under attack on October 9 and also relevant villages. We learned about what authorities did after the attacks and allegations that have been made regarding human rights violations when authorities launched military operations in response. When we visited the area, we asked questions about their livelihoods, education, health, and social matters.
Please tell me about the livelihoods of the villagers?
We visited Kyainchaung Village. Both ethnic Rakhine and Muslim people live in the village. We visited the villages where both communities co-exist. We visited a hospital in Buthidaung. The hospital provides healthcare without racial or religious discrimination. These are villages where the situation is normal without any problems. In Ah Lel Than Kyaw Village in Maungdaw, there was no problem between communities, their livelihood is fishing in the sea and prawn farming. They said their livelihood was damaged after the incident. In the villages where Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus co-exist, they unanimously said that their livelihood was affected by the "October attack". The main problem is that it has become difficult to conduct their businesses. They said they want the situation to get better as soon as possible. The Rakhine State government has said it does not ban deep-sea fishing, but in some villages, villagers are not allowed to go deep-sea fishing. The Maungdaw border trading gate has been closed so trade figures will not meet expectations in December.
What about the movement situation within the villages?
Muslim community leaders said they cannot come and go from one village to another. This maybe due to two reasons. They dare not go to another village. And even if they sought permission to go to another village, it would not be granted. Roads are also poor. There are also problems caused by a lack of trust among communities, so they dare not go to other villages. In Maungdaw and Buthidaung, ethnic Rakhine people are the minority, so they stay at home. If they need to go to another village, they have to go with security provided by authorities.
Please say something about allegations concerning human rights violations.
Before the visit, we heard about it. International media, human rights organisations and international organisations said that some villages were set on fire and some women were raped. We visited some villages. For instance, Pyaungpike Village in Maungdaw. It is not too far from the border police force command No.1 (Kyee Kan Pyin). When we were in the village, some women, about one or two women, told media that they were raped. Homes were set on fire in Wahbate Village located next to the roadside. In Pyaungpike Village, not only homes but also winnowing machines were set on fire. In response to questions by journalists, two or three people said they (the homes and the machines) were torched. They also said who was responsible, mentioning the name of the security-organization. (But) when we asked the administrative chief, who accompanied them he totally rejected the allegations.
So, there is still controversy over human rights violations. We need to take enough time to observe and review the issue. We heard about human rights violations both before and during the visit.
Please tell me about education in the areas?
Many schools have been re-opened. Only some schools remain closed. We saw some teachers. Many ethnic children and a few Muslim children attend the schools. The schools are state-run schools. The majority of the Muslim children were taught by Maulawi (religious teachers) in their villages.
Which other places did you visit?
Ah Lel Than Kyaw Village in Maungdaw. They run fish and farm prawns. The village avoided the attacks. They said they do not allow people like those to enter the village. Myinnlut is also a big village. Another village is Koetankauk, which also was subjected to attack. Another one is Ahngumaw Village. There was no problem in the village.
Did you visit the Kyak Yoe Pyin Village, which was mentioned in the Guardian newspaper report in relation to rape allegations?
We could not visit that village. We heard that when the investigation commission visited the village, they also asked questions about this. Some people said the woman mentioned in the story did not live in the village.
Please tell me about any unusual events during your visit?
We visited Koetankauk Camp in Yathedaung. Most of the officials who worked in the area at that time when the original incident occurred were not there anymore. After the attack, they were transferred. Anyway, the remaining officials explained the situation in detail. The local residents said that villagers knew the situation of the police outpost very well. The outpost is large. When it was attacked, there were only ten policemen in the outpost.
People living in villages that are directly related to the incident feel worried. Although the communities live separately, they have suspicions. We visited Pyaungpike, Ngakhuya Camp, and Koetankauk Camp. In Ngakhuya, we asked villagers questions in a place arranged by the government, rather than asking them questions inside the village. Anyway, we visited the village too. In Pyaungpike, the villagers heard that the media would visit them and they were waiting for us. Then the media met with them and the villagers answered questions.
As a media person visiting the areas to gather news, what message would you like to convey?
The problem cannot be solved immediately. There are many issues related to it. Bad things have occurred over many years and contributed to the problem. It is a problem that we need to take enough time to solve.