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Mrauk-U crackdown: both police and protesters likely at fault, says MP

One of those wounded in the police crackdown on protesters in Mrauk-U, Rakhine State, lies on a hospital bed. (PHOTO: DVB)

Members of the local police force were probably at fault as much as protesters for the deadly crackdown that left seven demonstrators dead in Mrauk-U on 16 January, said Tun Thar Sein, a Mrauk-U MP and secretary of a newly established committee to investigate the incident.

“It is most likely that both sides – members of the police force and protesters – violated certain customs, commands and laws,” he said.

The MP made the remarks during an emergency session of the Rakhine state parliament in Sittwe yesterday, when MPs approved the establishment of a committee of inquiry.

“The committee’s duties will be to identify the factors that triggered the incident in Mrauk-U and to determine whether or not the relevant personnel and their affiliations complied to laws, by-laws, customs and directives,” said Tun Thar Sein, adding that no deadline had been set for concluding the investigation.

The committee of inquiry is to comprise nine members, including lawmakers from the ruling National League for Democracy, the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party, and the locally based Arakan National Party, as well as three appointed members of the Rakhine state parliament’s advisory committee.

Tun Thar Sein added that the Union government has sent a separate investigation team to probe the causes of the crackdown and subsequent deaths. He said the government team has not as yet made contact with either himself or other local MPs.

The Rakhine assembly committee is due to begin its investigation on 3 February.

In addition to the seven demonstrators who were killed by police fire, at least 12 others were injured in the melee. The Burmese government said that some 20 police officers also suffered injuries during what was described by officials as a “riot” on 16 January when several thousand people marched to the township administrator’s office in Mrauk-U to protest a decision to prohibit a commemoration ceremony for the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan kingdom.

Mrauk-U police station later claimed that local authorities ordered the protesters to disperse, but they did not comply and threw stones instead. Police then reportedly fired warning shots to clear the demonstrators before, apparently, training their guns on the crowd.