A man who gave an interview to journalists on a government organized media trip to Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State this week was found beheaded a day later, according to police.
Myanmar’s armed forces have taken control of the northern state since a group of assailants attacked a police guard post on the border with Bangladesh in October, killing nine officers.
The International Crisis Group said the attackers were from a Saudi-backed group called Harakah al-Yaqin, which emerged after a wave of sectarian violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine in 2012.
Since the army moved in, there have been reports of the military being responsible for mass killings, the burning of villages, rape and torture directed against the Rohingya, forcing thousands to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
The Rohingya, described as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, have suffered years of poverty and discrimination under a Myanmar government that denies them citizenship and calls them “illegal Bengalis.”
The rare media trip for Myanmar journalists only was organized in response to the allegations against the army. Journalists “reacted positively to what they saw,” the state-owned newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported, quoting the chief editor of the Central News Bureau as saying: “We arrived at the area with no restriction on any individual. We were given the freedom to interview anyone we wanted, anywhere we went. The people answered freely without fear. In terms of media freedom, we were completely free to cover the news.”
However, U Soe Myint, chief editor at Mizzima Media Group, later told the Myanmar Times: “This trip cannot be called a proper media trip. It was just something to get the media involved.”
Staged or not, the headless body of 41-year-old Muslim man from Ngakhura village who had spoken to the journalists, was found floating in a river on December 22. He had been reported in the media as saying there were “no cases of arson by the military and police forces, no rape and no unjust arrests.”
Meanwhile, the situation in Rakhine state is causing tensions between Myanmar and fellow ASEAN member Malaysia. Earlier this month, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led a rally in Kuala Lumpur to protest against the “genocide” of Rohingya, which was seen as interference and heavily criticized by the Myanmar government.
On December 19, ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Yangon to address the issue agreed “to work toward re-establishing humanitarian aid access to the affected area, and that Myanmar would regularly update members of the regional bloc on the evolving situation in northern Rakhine State.”
In Myanmar’s Shan State, a woman was shot during a clash between the TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army) and the Shan State Army South, a government backed group which signed the nationwide ceasefire in 2015.
There has also been been renewed fighting in Katchin State, where an alliance led by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) called the Northern Alliance or the Northern Brotherhood, composed of four ethnic armed groups – KIA, TNLA MNDAA (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army) and AA (Arakan Army) – attacked the Myanmar army.
On December 19, the army took back an important KIA outpost near the city of Gidon.
The latest incidents are a major drawback for de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who vowed to make peace a priority. A TNLA spokesperson said the Northern Alliance was ready to sit down for peace talks but so far no date has been agreed.