- Title: Myanmar’s training for non-Muslim police stokes fear in Rakhine
- Date: 18th November 2016
- Summary: KYEE YOE PYIN VILLAGE, MAUNGDAW TOWNSHIP, RAKHINE STATE, MYANMAR (FILE - OCTOBER 27, 2016) (REUTERS) BURNT MARKET IN KYEE YOE PYIN VILLAGE OUTSIDE MAUNGDAW BURNT HOUSES VILLAGERS WALKING AROUND DEBRIS DEBRIS VARIOUS OF VILLAGERS
- Embargoed: 3rd December 2016 09:38
- Keywords: Myanmar Rakhine Muslim Rohingya conflict police training
- Location: RAKHINE, MYANMAR / BANGKOK, THAILAND
- City: RAKHINE, MYANMAR / BANGKOK, THAILAND
- Country: Myanmar
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace
- Reuters ID: LVA00258Z0F9H
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Ever since deadly attacks by insurgents allegedly inspired by Islamists in Myanmar's troubled northwest, local police have started training and arming some 116 ethnic Rakhine civilians to be deployed as an auxiliary police force in Rakhine State.
Chanting an oath of loyalty to the state, the new recruits began an accelerated programme in the state capital Sittwe this week. Mostly Rakhine Buddhists in their early 20s, in 16 weeks they will be deployed guarding border posts in the tense north.
The training is two months shorter than the programme undertaken by regular police and the recruits did not have to meet the usual entrance criteria such as educational attainment standards and minimum height.
Only citizens were eligible, excluding the 1.1 million Rohingyas living in Rakhine State who are denied Myanmar citizenship in Myanmar, where many regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The recruits, from across Rakhine will be given training courses include martial arts, use of weapons and riot control.
"We started this training so that we have a new recruit of policemen in times of need. These new policemen will go back to their regions and serve the people after they finish the training," said Rakhine State police chief Colonel Sein Lwin.
More than 100 suspect insurgents and over 30 members of the security forces have been killed in the latest spasm of violence that began with coordinated attacks on three border police posts that killed nine officers on October 9, followed by a military crackdown last month along Myanmar's frontier with Bangladesh, according to official reports.
It is the most serious unrest in the state since hundreds were killed in communal clashes between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.
Residents and rights advocates have accused security forces of killing and raping civilians and setting fire to homes in the area, where the vast majority of residents are Rohingya Muslims. The government and army reject the accusations.
In addition to being denied citizenship, the stateless Rohingya face restrictions on their movements and access to services.
Sein Lwin said the recruits would help protect residents from what the government has described as a Rohingya Muslim militant group, estimated to be 400-strong, that has been blamed for the October 9 attacks.
"Local ethnics (Buddhist) were killed. They ran away from their homes to a safer place whenever problem happens. This is a real situation there. People are worried and asking us to train them (Buddhist civilians). We have to protect them according to the law," he said.
International rights groups have said arming and training non-Muslims will just lead to further bloodshed in the divided state.
The auxiliary force will come under the control of the border police. After an 18-month stint on the border, the recruits will be deployed to police stations close to their hometowns.
They will be paid 150,000 Kyat ($115) monthly, a salary many recruits said was less than they earned as civilians. Some said they joined to protect their homeland.
"I feel sad (for the fighting between Muslims and Buddhists) that had happened in our country, to our people. I want to help solve this problem and also serve the country. That's why I joined this police training," said 28-year-old Aung Thein Tun, wearing his new police uniform with a badge bearing a white star on the shoulder.
While officials have said the auxiliary police recruits are not a new "people's militia", like those that fight ethnic insurgencies elsewhere in Myanmar, some observers fear the move will sharpen tensions between the two communities.
"You would expect a new police force being set up in that situation to reflect the ethnic diversity, the religious diversity of that population. Everything we know right now about the police force existing and the police force that has been created and added particularly in northern Rakhine is that it is excluding one group, namely the Muslims, particularly the Rohingya. That's always a recipe of bad policing and actually for making the situation worse," said Saman Zia-Zarifi, regional director of the International Commission of Jurists based in Bangkok.
"Injecting poorly trained people with weapons into a situation of intense ethnic tension doesn't seem like a good idea. We've seen around the world how it's actually important to try to lower the tension, to reach out to all of the communities involved to gain their trust. Arming one side of the conflict seems like really a recipe for disaster," he added.
Residents and rights advocates have accused security forces of summary executions, rape and setting fire to homes in the recent violence. The government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the army reject the accusations.
Diplomats have also called for an independent and credible investigation. The government has not announced any plans to carry it out, instead cautioning against a "misinformation campaign" by a "violent group based in Rakhine".
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