Interviewer – Tin Maung Lwin, Min Htat Aung, Photo – Maung Hmwe
Local and international media who visited northern Rakhine State from 29 August to 1 September — only days after the first of a series of attacks on police stations, villages and security forces by the terrorist group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) — said their experiences while gathering news and information revealed that the violence was organised and ongoing, that the terrorists were better armed and trained compared to the similar attacks last year, and that innocent civilians continue to fear for their lives.
The journalists, who returned to Yangon from Sittway on Friday evening, were interviewed by Myanmar News Agency reporters and asked for their first-hand accounts.
Daw Ei Ei Tin (Fuji TV)
“In last year’s terrorist attacks, the terrorists were armed only with sticks and swords. This time, they have hand-made landmines, car mines and other arms, so we were worried. Officials provided security so that we can visit the places we want to. Everyone was surprised that we can go. We went there after convincing ourselves that security must had been established, as we were allowed to go while the events were unfolding. We were able to visit many sites where incidents occurred.
We visited ethnic villages about three to four miles from Maungtaw. In Maungtaw town, the market is closed. Outside the market we saw only a few ethnic national shops. The town and the market is deserted, but security was everywhere.
On our return from Maungtaw, we visited Buthidaung Hospital, where we interviewed a woman who was shot and wounded by terrorists. She is a Hindu and a nurse had to translate for us. Her Hindu family was returning to Maungtaw when there was a terrorist attack and they ran into a district court building that was still under construction. Terrorists then came and attacked them with swords and guns. She was hit in the chest and fell down. A child and another woman who were with her hid in a big tub and escaped.
We thank the authorities for arranging this visit and once we are back in our office, we will report what we found to the world.”
Ko Moe Myint (Irrawaddy)
“It is very good that the government arranged for this visit by local and international media as soon as the events happened. There is a time constraint on gathering news, but this is probably because of the security situation.
When we went to a camp where Hindus were staying, there was a language barrier. Due to the time needed for translation, we needed double the normal time to complete our interviews.
It is good that we were able to visit the sites where incidents occurred. But we also need to meet with victims of terrorism who were hospitalised in order to learn the first-hand accounts of the attacks.
There was no plan to do this and it was conducted only after we heard of a woman hospitalised in Buthidaung Hospital after surviving an attack that killed six Hindus. The authorities arranged for the hospital visit after our request and it was a very interesting interview with a victim. It would have been great if we could stay in Buthidaung, but apart from this the arrangements were very convenient.”
Daw Sint Sint Aung
“It is very convenient for being able to visit Maungtaw. While we were at Maungtaw District General Administrative Office on 31 August, there was an attempt to burn down a place nearby and we saw fires burning while security personnel cleared the area. We also heard gunshots. When we visited that place, we didn’t see anyone, but the way things were lying around indicated that people were coming and going as the situation permitted, and all had not run away.
While we were in Buthidaung, on the way to Maungtaw, we learnt of five ethnic nationals killed at Three-Mile Village. When we met the police, they confirmed the incident. We saw the building under construction where the Hindus were killed. We visited ethnic Rakhine camps and also met with Hindus. The ethnic Rakhine say they rely on the Tatmadaw, and there shouldn’t be any terrorists. When we met with ethnic Mro nationals, they said they don’t have any security because their numbers are so small, so they had to run away if there were any incidents. They prefer to live near where there are ethnic Rakhines.”
Ko Nay Htat Zaw Win
“When we left Buthidaung and reached the Maungtaw District General Administrative Office on 31 August, there was an arson attack intended to burn down a place west of the office. It was on fire for only about 15 minutes. We were able to visit that place and took photos. We were also provided with full security. We also visited a place where five people were killed by terrorists on the morning of 31 August. We were able to interview the local villagers there. Security was well provided. We visited temporary camps for ethnic Rakhine who fled from the arson attacks. We interviewed them and took photographs. We also visited camps where Hindus and ethnic Mro are staying. They all looked terrified. They want to return to their own places, but they are afraid to do so.”
Ko Zayya Maw (Mizzima)
“We were able to collect news in Maungtaw only. Neighbouring areas were not safe, so we were unable to collect news very much. Some areas are still not safe, so we were afraid to go to such places and the authorities also didn’t ask us to go. We first saw a camp where ethnic Rakhine were staying. There were more than 600, and all were terrified.
The two communities don’t trust one another, so they didn’t want to stay where they were. They wanted to move into town. When we visited a camp where there are Hindus, we also found them to be afraid. We visited a Bengali camp in Thakkepyin Village near Sittway. They said they don’t want these terrorist activities and were concerned that what happened in Maungtaw would happen in Sittway. They also wanted to stay in peace. We wanted to gather news as soon as the incidents happened, but we were unable to do so due to the security situation. Authorities arranged the visit within three days of the incidents occurring, so even though we are not fully satisfied with the visit, we are able to report what we had seen and were able to get first-hand interviews, so we were quite satisfied.”
This is the fourth visit by local and international journalists to northern Rakhine State since late last year. The media representatives visited northern Rakhine State for the first time from 19-22 December, a second time from 28 March to 1 April and a third time from July 12-16.