By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER
MAUNGDAW, Rakhine State — Three Muslim women who alleged they had been raped by soldiers during last year’s security crackdown in Maungdaw Township were detained for several hours by Border Guard Police after speaking to the media on Thursday, Frontier has been told.
Earlier that day, the women had spoken to village elders and members of a state-backed media delegation through an interpreter about their experience at the hands of security forces in the aftermath of October’s attack on police and border guard posts in the district.
Two sisters from Kyargaung Taung village, aged 20 and 16, said they had been raped by soldiers three months ago.
“We were divided into groups of between three and five each,” said the younger sister. “We were brought to an empty house and raped by four or five soldiers.”
A third woman in the village said she had been raped while pregnant.
Brig-Gen Thura San Lwin, the local chief of the Border Guard Police, told a Friday press conference in Maungdaw town that an investigation into the rape claims had been opened at the Ngakhuya police station yesterday evening.
Frontier has been told that after speaking to the media, the three women were taken against their will to the police station and detained for three hours. At least one of the women had asked police not to open an investigation on the matter after speaking to media.
Nay San Lwin, an activist who has been monitoring the situation on the ground in Rakhine through local intermediaries, said the trio were held until their village administrator arrived to sign a guarantee that pledged him to prevent them from fleeing across the border to Bangladesh and to bring them to the police station on request.
The women were told to return to the police station on Friday for medical examinations and further interrogation.
This week’s controversial media trip to Maungdaw, attended by Frontier on an invitation from the Ministry of Information, was boycotted by some outlets protesting the continued restrictions on media access in the district.
As with a previous media delegation organised by the ministry last December, travel was tightly regulated by police and government officials.
Most participating reporters belonged to state-run media outlets, which along with government officials and State Counsellor’s office spokesman U Zaw Htay, have stridently disputed allegations of human rights abuses against the local Muslim community in recent months.
Earlier this month, Rohingya in Bangladesh who fled the recent violence in Rakhine told the Dhaka Tribune that members of the Union government’s Maungdaw Investigation Commission had called them liars after they gave testimony on instances of murder, torture and rape in the district.
Thursday marked the first time a police investigation had been opened into claims of rape by security forces since the security crackdown commenced last October.
U Ye Htut, head of the Maungdaw General Administration Department, told reporters on Thursday that perpetrators would be brought to justice if the rape allegations were substantiated.
“If the women were really victimised, they surely would enjoy the protection of the law,” he said. “We’ll take action against those who committed crimes in accordance with the law and we’ll protect the victims.”
At the same time, Ye Htut cast doubt on the womens’ claims, telling reporters that earlier allegations in Maungdaw had been lodged by women who had falsely claimed to be rape victims because of “pressure behind them”.
Ye Htut also appeared to suggest that whether the allegations were taken seriously would depend on the results of a medical examination and other supplementary evidence, despite the rape cases dating back several months.
“Just verbally is not enough, the victims need to show firm evidences for their grievances,” he said, in comments reported by the Global New Light of Myanmar.
Additional reporting by Sean Gleeson in Yangon.