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This week’s dismissal of two Muslim members from the government’s commission to investigate sectarian clashes in Arakan state is reportedly linked to their outspoken criticism of the Arakanese government and alleged bias in favour of the Rohingyas.
Sources near the commission told DVB that Tin Maung Than and Nyunt Maung Shein, the president and the secretary of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council Headquarters, were dismissed under a presidential order last week for violating commission principles, including publicly criticising the government.
It follows the release of a controversial letter, in which Tin Maung Than accused the regional government in Arakan state of being “dictated by [a] terror network” and called on senior MPs to resign.
“Those who are tasked with implementing [security measures] on the ground carry no dignity as government officials, or genuine will and honesty to work for rule of law,” he wrote in an open letter published in Myanmar Post Global news journal on Friday. “The Regional Government including the State Chief Minister U Hla Maung Tint and Security Affairs Minister Colonel Htein Linn have no power to defy a group of terror-mongers.”
Fellow commission member Zaganar told DVB that his dismissal was likely a direct consequence of the letter, which has been widely distributed across the Internet.
“If he circulated this letter secretly or openly that is the violation of the [commission’s] principles and regulations. Because he has no mandate to do that,” said Zaganar.
But another source close to the commission, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, insisted the letter was only one of a number of incidents, which prompted his removal. According to the source, a number of commission members resented him for allegedly harbouring biased loyalties towards the Rohingyas.
“The key issue is that he broke commission rules and criticised even fellow commissioners, calling the Arakanese leader a ‘racist’,” the source told DVB, referring to Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) leader and fellow commissioner Dr Aye Maung, who has led a vocal campaign to expel the 800,000 Rohingya minority from western Burma.
Dr Aye Maung’s inclusion on the 27-member body, along with other militant nationalists such as student leader Ko Ko Gyi, and the total exclusion of Rohingya representatives, has itself been the source of controversy and led to accusations of bias in favour of the Arakanese. Only four Muslim representatives now remain on the commission.
The latest allegations are likely to raise alarm that Tin Maung Than has been squeezed out for political reasons, since accusations of “bias” are commonly leveled at commentators, activists and journalists concerned with the plight of the Rohingyas, who are considered “illegal Bengali immigrants” by the government.
But Zaganar insisted that overall Tin Maung Than’s behaviour has been completely professional and rejected allegations of bias.
“He’s a very good man and he’s a very smart man, but sometimes I think he is a very emotional man and he made some mischief with this letter,” said Zaganar.
None of the commission members have been offered an official explanation for the dismissals, although Thein Sein is set to issue a statement on Monday. The removal of Nyunt Maung Shein in particular has left his fellow commissioners baffled, as he has no known connection to the controversial letter, despite being a colleague of Tin Maung Than.
The multi-faith commission was established by presidential decree in August to investigate the country’s worst communal riots in decades, which pitted Buddhist Arakanese against Muslim Rohingyas in June and October, resulting in the deaths of more than 150 people and displacing 110,000. The government has faced stark international criticism for their handling of the crisis.
On Monday, the commission announced that it would delay its findings until March, pending additional research into the latest bout of violence. An interim report will be presented to President Thein Sein on 16 November.