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Burmese authorities have arrested six people for their suspected role in the massacre of 10 Muslim pilgrims in Arakan state last year, which sparked a series of vicious ethno-religious riots that left scores dead.
The suspects were nabbed when Naypyidaw police carried out a surprise raid in Arakan state’s Taungup on Wednesday, reportedly without informing local officials. It comes less than two days after Thein Sein pledged a “zero-tolerance approach” to ethnic violence during a high-profile European tour that has been overshadowed by allegations of persecution against Burmese Muslims.
According to the chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Sandoway district, authorities from Naypyidaw arrived with a list of the suspects’ addresses, but refused to disclose details to local police.
“Naypyidaw police seized local police officers’ phones when they arrived in town and told them to get in the cars with them,” said Win Naing. “It turned out they were there to detain seven suspects in connection with the massacre that took place on 3 June last year.”
One suspect reportedly escaped, while the others are being detained in Sandoway awaiting charges.
The massacre took place shortly after reports began to circulate about the alleged rape and murder of an Arakanese woman by three Rohingya Muslims in late May 2012. A large Buddhist mob surrounded a bus filled with non-Rohingya Muslim pilgrims, who were leaving Taungup for Rangoon, dragging off several passengers and beating them to death with clubs and sticks.
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in August 2012, “local police and soldiers stood by and watched the killings without intervening”.
An initial probe into the massacre reportedly floundered after investigators were unable to find a witness who was willing to testify against the killers.
Five days later riots kicked off in Maungdaw town in northern Arakan, pitting Buddhists against the stateless Muslim Rohingya, who are considered illegal Bengali immigrants by most locals and broadly despised. It resulted in four days of rioting that spread throughout the coastal state, killing dozens of people and leaving more than 100,000 people displaced.
A second eruption of violence flared in October, primarily targeting the Rohingya minority, many of whom have been left trapped in dismal camps and ghettos ever since. The violence has cast an international spotlight on Burma’s treatment of the minority and prompted global calls for the government to grant them citizenship.
Thein Sein’s government has also been criticised for a perceived failure to prosecute Buddhists involved in the violence.
When contacted by DVB on Thursday, Sandoway police said they were unable to comment on the arrests because more senior authorities had supervised the operation. Sandoway district’s administrator was also unavailable for comment.
Residents in Taungup said the arrests were carried out in secret and neither local officials nor local army units were aware of the operations until the next morning. Security was reportedly tight in Taungup on Thursday.