RVISION October 22, 2016

While attempting to cover the manhunt and security clampdown in northern Arakan State, independent journalists have faced movement restrictions imposed unilaterally by the Burma Army, following attacks by unknown assailants on border guard posts on Oct. 9.

The situation on the ground as the police and Burma Army conduct joint operations in the Muslim-majority villages of Maungdaw Township has been difficult to assess, given continued blocks on media access—justified on the grounds of safety—which were seen not to apply to local civilians.

On Monday, reporters and photographers from The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Times, 7 Day Daily, The Voice, Democratic Voice of Burma, Kumudra and Narinjara were stopped from traveling further north of the Kyikanpyin Border Guard Police headquarters on to the site of current security operations.

The journalists traveled to Kyikanpyin—where five police officers were killed and 51 firearms seized on Oct. 9—with Border Guard Police officers, and were permitted to spend 20 minutes documenting the scene, with the broken doorways and dried pools of blood.

They were discovered by Burma Army soldiers, who were surprised to see members of the media present. As the journalists were about to leave, an army officer demanded that they stay until he conferred with a senior officer. He then ordered the journalists to delete their photographs, which they refused to do, before driving off.

The journalists, attempting to drive further north, were stopped at a nearby army checkpoint. The captain present also ordered that they delete any photographs taken so far; again they refused. The journalists were not allowed to pass, for their own “safety,” in line with higher-level army orders issued on Sunday.

“Fighting could break out at any time,” said the captain, who refused to give his name or that of his senior officer.

The journalists protested that they had received the permission of the Home Ministry to travel to areas subject to security operations, and the argument lasted over two hours. The captain tried to take down their names, but the journalists refused to give them. Meanwhile, locals were seen traveling freely past the checkpoint. The journalists turned back.

These restrictions were a new development: a reporter and photographer from 7 Day Daily, and a photographer from The Voice, were able to access villages further north in Maungdaw Township on Friday of last week, Oct. 14, where, that evening, they saw the smoldering ruins of some 20 burned-down houses in Wonbait village along the highway, as well as smoke rising from two other nearby villages, the Voice photographer told The Irrawaddy.

There are sharply conflicting reports over who was responsible for burning the houses.

A Muslim community leader in Maungdaw town, Hla Maung, provided The Irrawaddy with what he knows  were lists of houses burned down by the Burma Army in Muslim villages, where the majority self-identity as Rohingya. He claimed that markets and mosques had also been burned down, and that Rohingya civilians had been killed.

Continued restrictions to media access in northern Arakan State, such as experienced by The Irrawaddy, made it difficult to independently verify the ongoing atrocities.

Muslim community leader Hla Maung told The Irrawaddy that Rohingya communities were hiding in jungle areas, fearful of being caught up in the security operations.

“Our displaced people have not gotten any help from the government,” he said. “They also have problems finding food.”

Note: Changes have been made, THE IRRAWADDY is not responsible for these.