A Union minister has said the presence of security forces will be boosted in Arakan State, a troubled border region where recent violence has renewed scrutiny on the government, its handling of militants and a 10-month counter-insurgency campaign against them.
The bolstered troop contingent would be at the ready to carry out further “clearance operations,” said the official, in a reference that has earned security forces an ignominious reputation among the international community. The military’s past “clearance operations” have been accompanied by widespread accusations that the conduct of security forces ran grossly afoul of international human rights standards in a counter-insurgency campaign that began on 9 October, when an attack by Rohingya Muslim militants killed nine police officers.
The government denies that any large-scale abuses were perpetrated by police or military personnel.
“An increased number of security forces will be deployed in Rakhine [Arakan] State and clearance operations will be carried out,” Thein Swe, Union minister for Labor, Immigration and Population, said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, a meeting to discuss security measures in Arakan State was headed by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyidaw.
Tension between Arakan State’s Buddhists and Muslims has risen in recent weeks amid a spate of killings and disappearances from members of both communities, which the government has blamed on “terrorists” — presumably with ties to the militants who executed the 9 October attacks.
“Yesterday, we discussed security in Rakhine State with the state counsellor. After the meeting, the Rakhine State government also issued a statement to lessen the worries of the local civilians. More security forces will be deployed in the state. After that, we will conduct clearance operations to an extent where ethnic civilians feel secure,” Thein Swe said.
“Basically, we will undertake measures for the rule of law, security and tranquility in the state. On the other hand, we will keep working on development activities in accordance with the law.”
With the security situation in Arakan State increasingly tenuous, a delegation of senior Arakan National Party (ANP) members met with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing on Wednesday.
“The commander-in-chief pledged to increase security forces for the sake of tranquility in Rakhine State,” said Pe Than, an ANP lawmaker in Parliament’s Lower House.
“We consider the security in Rakhine State to be at high-risk. For that reason, we requested to meet with the commander-in-chief to discuss the difficulties we are facing. He pledged to increase the number of security forces in the state.”
Pe Than added, “We met with the army chief because he is the head of the armed forces and security-related issues are more relevant to him. If there is a need to discuss development of the state, we will endeavour to meet with the NLD [National League for Democracy] government.”
Criticising that administration, he said the NLD had “not undertaken any measures for development in Rakhine State.”
In recent days, some have called upon the government to equip ordinary citizens with arms for the purpose of self-defence, as fears have risen over the recent killings in Arakan State.
But Thein Swe, the Union minister and a retired military man, affirmed that the government had no such intention.
“One could be good and another bad,” he said, referring either to possible outcomes of such an extraordinary measure, the hands into which those arms might fall, or both. “The feelings of the two communities [Buddhist and Muslim] toward each other could possibly become worse. Currently, the government will not consider allocating arms to citizens.”