Army enforces Rakhine clampdown 

Myanmar’s military or Tatmadaw is under little scrutiny in Rakhine State. Source: YouTube

Myanmar’s leading English-language newspaper has ceased to report on Rakhine State, according to a leaked internal memo, amid increasing pressure on the media to curtail critical coverage of the military crackdown. 

The Myanmar Times, the country’s oldest independent English-language paper, stopped covering the crisis after one of its foreign editorial staff, Fiona McGregor, was sacked over an article claiming soldiers had gang-raped Rohingya women.

AFP said an internal memo ordered editors “not to analyse, comment, report or have opinion pieces on the following subjects until further notice: Rakhine State; Rohingya; and military actions in Rakhine State”.

Further stories of abuse of the Muslim community continue to emerge from Myanmar’s westernmost state.

Soe Myat Naing said: “We have to run away from our village when the military comes, they threaten the men so we have to run and leave the women. When we are not in the villages they go into our houses and take our possessions.”

He said the army recently raided his village in Nga Sar Kyu in the unstable north of the state.

“They arrested 30 women and raped 19, including my younger sister who is 23 years old. She cannot walk,” he told the media. “The situation is getting worse.”

The “Tatmadaw” is accused of rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya population, including extrajudicial killing, sexual assault and arson.

The authorities deny any wrongdoing.

Coordinated attacks were reportedly launched on three border posts in Maungdaw Township on October 9, which left nine police officers dead. The attacks were blamed on a Rohingya militants from a previously unknown group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin. The Rohingya have no tradition of militant action despite living in apartheid-style subjugation. The authorities are restricting the media and aid organisations from accessing to northern Rakhine State, meaning the military’s allegations cannot be independently verified.

Last week, another policeman was apparently killed in a shooting at a border post in Maungdaw.

NGOs estimate that as many as 15,000 Rohingya Muslims have been displaced in the north of the state along the Bangladesh border since the October 9 attacks.

Last week, a delegation of foreign diplomats were granted access to various Maungdaw villages but were not taken to the scene of the most serious allegations against the Tatmadaw.

UN coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien called on the central government in Nay Pyi Taw to conduct an independent probe into the allegations.

“The worrying thing about these human rights abuses is that the government deny every single allegation. They have put down the rape allegations and that [the armed forces] have been burning houses, even though it has been confirmed,” said Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project NGO, quoting sources in Maungdaw.

“The biggest problem right now is that [the armed forces] have expanded their area of operation so even more people are experiencing raids, looting and arrests,” she added.

Last week, executive secretary of the Rakhine State government, Tin Maung Swe said: “We must protect our national interests and these Muslims are not part of that. We don’t care what you foreigners think. We must protect our land and our people, humanitarian concerns are a secondary priority.”