Myanmar arms non-Muslim civilians in Rakhine

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Cii Radio| Sabera Sheik Essop| 04 November 2016| 03 Safar 1438

Authorities in Myanmar say security forces have begun arming and training non-Muslim residents in the north of Rakhine state to counter an allegedly growing threat from fighters belonging to the ethnic Rohingya minority group.

Human rights advocates say the move could lead to more conflict and abuses against civilians in Rakhine.
Colonel Sein Lwin, Rakhine police chief, told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that his force had started recruiting new “regional police” from among Buddhist Rakhine and other non-Muslim ethnic minorities in the border town of Maungdaw.

Candidates who did not meet the educational attainment standards, or criteria such as minimum height, required for recruitment by the regular police would be accepted for the scheme, he said.

“But they have to be the residents,” said Sein Lwin. “They will have to serve at their own places.”

Min Aung, a minister in Rakhine parliament and a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said only citizens would be eligible to sign up for the police training, ruling out the 1.1 million Rohingya living in Rakhine, who are denied citizenship by the government.

Police will also start recruiting civilians in Sittwe, Rakhine state’s capital, next week.

Lin Lin Oo, a police official, said that initially 100 recruits aged between 18 and 35 would undergo an accelerated 16-week training programme in Sittwe on November 7.

Authorities said the auxiliary recruits would not form a new “people’s militia”, like those that fight in ethnic conflicts elsewhere in Myanmar.

Such militias – which are often accused of abuses against civilians – raise their own funds and are overseen by the army. The new recruits in Rakhine will be paid and come under the control of the border police.

Communal tensions
Human rights organisations and a leader of the stateless Rohingya told Reuters that the move risked sharpening intercommunal tensions in a region that has just seen its deadliest month since 2012, when hundreds of people were killed in clashes between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

Soldiers have poured into the northern region along Myanmar’s frontier with Bangladesh following attacks on three border posts on October 9 in which nine police officers were killed.

Security forces have locked down the area – shutting out aid workers and independent observers – and conducted sweeps of villages in Maungdaw, where the vast majority are Rohingya.

Official reports say five soldiers and 33 alleged fighters have been killed.

The UN has called for an investigation into allegations that security forces have killed, raped and arbitrarily detained thousands of Rohingya civilians and razed their homes to the ground in a crackdown following the October 9 attacks.

The government has denied abuses by troops.

The military has also recently forced hundreds of Rohingya to flee their houses.

Ethnic Rakhine political leaders have urged the government to arm local Buddhists against what they say is rising security threats from Rohingya fighters.

“The minority ethnic people need to protect themselves from hostile neighbours,” said Min Aung, referring to non-Muslim ethnicities who are in a minority in the region.

“That’s why the government supports them as regional police, as well as with employment.”

Source : Al Jazeera