Govt softens stance on alleged Islamist ties to Arakan violence

Govt softens stance on alleged Islamist ties to Arakan violence

Burma’s government appears to be backing away from claims that attacks that took place in Arakan State earlier this month were carried out by a Islamist group with links to Pakistan.

At a press conference held in Naypyidaw on Monday, Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Kyaw Zeya said that information released by the President’s Office on 14 October was “only based on initial reports” and could not be used to “start making accusations, much less condemnations”.

The remarks, which were reported in the state-run Burmese-language newspaper Myanma Ahlin on Tuesday, appeared to be an admission that earlier claims, based on interrogation of prisoners captured during the security sweep that followed attacks that killed nine border police on 9 October, were unsubstantiated.

The statement released by the President’s Office last Friday detailed the attackers’ alleged ties to an unknown group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin and claimed that their ringleader, a 45-year-old Islamist militant identified as Havistoohar, had received training under the Pakistani Taliban.

At the press conference on Monday, however, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Aung Soe also indicated that earlier intelligence might have been flawed.

“The authorities released the news as confessed by [the prisoners]. Some weakness can be found in receiving news and information,” he was reported by the English-language Global New Light of Myanmar as saying.

Burma’s government and military are presenting a united front in tackling the latest crisis to hit Arakan State, where communal clashes between ethnic Arakanese and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, in 2012 left dozens dead and more than 100,000 displaced.

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Foreign Minister Kyaw Tint Swe said that the government was also seeking the cooperation of Bangladesh and had explained the situation in Arakan to Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia — Muslim-majority countries that are also fellow members of the Association of Southeast Nations.

Other Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, had also been contacted to request their cooperation, according to Kyaw Zeya.

He added, however, that while Pakistan’s ambassador to Burma, Ehsan Ullah Batth, acknowledged the call for cooperation, his government would not be able to act on the information it had received because most of the names of alleged co-conspirators that were supplied were very common in Pakistan.

According to Kyaw Tint Swe, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is also attempting to submit a draft proposal on human rights in Burma, although no details were disclosed.

The OIC is holding a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from its 57 member states in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, beginning today to discuss issues affecting the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Its director general of political affairs, Tariq Ali Bakhiet, said that “issues of Muslim communities in non-OIC states, particularly in Myanmar [Burma]”, would be among the subjects discussed, Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper reported.

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