Alleged probe into deaths of 2 Rohingya in custody

Police report refers to cover-up, but govt denies investigation

YANGON • Myanmar's Home Affairs Ministry is investigating a cover-up by the country's border force of the deaths in custody of two Rohingya in troubled Rakhine state, according to a police report reviewed by Reuters and interviews with senior security officials.

The internal document is the first official admission of serious wrongdoing by security forces in their crackdown against insurgents in north-western Myanmar that has sent more than 70,000 people fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.

When contacted by Reuters, the Home Affairs Ministry denied there was an investigation, but the commander of the Border Guard Police (BGP) in the area where the incident took place and a senior Home Ministry security official confirmed the authenticity of the document.

The Home Affairs Ministry oversees the national police force, which includes the BGP, and is headed by an army general.

Myanmar is under growing international pressure to take action against those who are alleged to have committed atrocities in Rakhine. The United Nations has documented mass killings and rapes that it says may amount to crimes against humanity.

About 1.1 million Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions in north- western Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship. Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The civilian government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly denied almost all allegations against the country's still-powerful armed forces during what it had said was a lawful counterinsurgency campaign that began in October.

 

The undated document seen by Reuters, titled "A cover-up of two deaths by Border Guard Police", was compiled by a BGP unit in northern Rakhine and focuses on two men who were arrested on Oct 18 and questioned on suspicion of aiding insurgents.

The men died in custody, the document says without specifying a cause of death. Instead of reporting the deaths, BGP officers in the village of Nga Khu Ya, in Maungdaw township, recorded that they had been transferred, with eight others, to another police detention centre.

Mr Thura San Lwin, BGP chief in Maungdaw township, near the border with Bangladesh, said the document had been submitted to police headquarters in the capital, Naypyitaw.

"We are taking actions to punish those who lied in their reports. We won't forgive them. We are also taking actions to punish those who did not follow the rule of law," he said.

Home Affairs Ministry spokesman Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe denied that any BGP officers had lied. He said the pair, who were father and son, died from asthma on the way to a hospital on Oct 18.

The military campaign there began after nine BGP officers were killed in attacks on security posts near the Bangladesh border on Oct 9. It has renewed international criticism that Myanmar leader Suu Kyi has done too little to help the Rohingya minority.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Alleged probe into deaths of 2 Rohingya in custody'. Print Edition | Subscribe