Myanmar Commission Begins Second Trip to Troubled Northern Rakhine State

A national-level commission investigating violence in the northern part of Myanmar's Rakhine state is on a second visit to the turbulent region, after receiving heavy criticism from rights groups this week for refuting allegations of abuses by security forces deployed in the region since October.

The 13-member commission led by Myanmar Vice President Myint Swe began a two-day visit on Friday to border guard headquarters in Maungdaw township to further probe Oct. 9 attacks on guard stations by armed assailants in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships that left nine officers dead.

The panel will also visit Zinpaingnya and Myo Thugyi villages on Friday and Shwe Yin Aye, Norula, and Ale Thankyaw villages on Saturday.

On Tuesday, the commission issued its interim report on the situation in Rakhine to the government based on findings and interviews that members conducted during the group's first visit to northern Rakhine last Dec. 11-13.

It said it found no cases of genocide or religious persecution of Rohingya Muslims who live in the region in the wake of the deadly border guard attacks and subsequent security lockdown.

The commission said it conducted special investigations of allegations of rape, torture, arson and illegal arrests in Rohingya villages by security forces that moved into the area to search for those who planned and carried out the border guard station attacks.

But the commission said its interviews of local villagers and women about the rape allegations yielded insufficient evidence to take legal action, though its investigations into accusations of arson, torture, and illegal arrests are still under way.

The commission also noted that an increase in the local number of Muslim religious scholars, mosques, and other religious structures was an indication there had been no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region.

Human rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), blasted the group's findings, saying they were an attempt to gloss over atrocities and heavy international criticism, especially since the report came only days after a video surfaced showing policemen beating Rohingya Muslims.

The commission was created by presidential order on Dec. 1 to probe the Oct. 9 border guard attacks as well as subsequent violence in Muslim villages in Maungdaw on Nov. 12 and 13, when armed men are said to have ambushed police and soldiers deployed to northern Rakhine to conduct security operations.

The government has blamed the attacks on local Muslim insurgents who received training and financing from terrorists and Islamists abroad, but it has denied that soldiers committed any atrocities against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine.

Some of the 50,000 Rohingya who fled to safety during the violence have alleged otherwise, though.

U.N. envoy to visit Rakhine

Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special human rights envoy for Myanmar, will begin a 12-day visit at the invitation of the government on Jan. 9 to look into the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine, the U.N. said on Friday.

She will also visit northern Myanmar's Kachin state where thousands of people have been displaced by fighting between government soldiers and ethnic rebels.

"The events of the last few months have shown that the international community must remain vigilant in monitoring the human rights situation there," Yanghee Lee said in the statement.

Besides meeting with those affected by human rights violations, Lee will also meet with political and community leaders, civil society, and members of the international community.

U.N officials, including Lee, have been critical of the government's handling of the Rakhine crisis, specifically the denial of access by independent media and international humanitarian groups to areas affected by the violence.

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