Also known as Burma. Source: Myanmar’s training for non-Muslim police stokes fear in Rakhine
By Wa Lone and Yimou Lee
SITTWE, Myanmar (Reuters) – Ever since deadly attacks by alleged Muslim militants in Myanmar’s troubled northwestern Rakhine State, Myint Lwin says he has been unable to sleep at night. As rumors spread of fresh violence, even the sound of dogs barking frightened him.
“No one in the village has had enough sleep since last month,” said Myint Lwin, an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist from a Muslim-majority village in the north of the state. “We were scared when we heard people shouting and dogs barking in the middle of the night.”
The 18-year-old motorbike taxi driver is one of 116 civilians to sign up for a new auxiliary police force in Rakhine State, part of the response by authorities to the latest spasm of violence that began with attacks on border police posts that killed nine officers on Oct. 9.
Human rights monitors say arming and training non-Muslims will lead to further bloodshed in the divided state, but Myint Lwin sees it as necessary for self-defense.
“These Muslims are trying to abuse our Buddhist women and people, so I want to protect our country from them,” he told Reuters, wearing his new police uniform with a badge bearing a white star on the shoulder.
Sixty-nine suspected insurgents and 17 members of the security forces have been killed, according to official reports since a military crackdown began last month along Myanmar’s frontier with Bangladesh.
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 also 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 of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the army reject the accusations.
There have been no reports of insurgent attacks on Buddhist civilians.
Chanting an oath of loyalty to the state, the new recruits began an accelerated training program 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 program 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 citizenship in Myanmar, where many regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The recruits, who are from across Rakhine, will be given training courses including martial arts, use of weapons and riot control.
“The ethnic Rakhine asked the government to protect them in the Muslim-majority region,” said Rakhine State police chief Colonel Sein Lwin. “If we have enough police force, we can give more security to them.”
He 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 Oct. 9 attacks.
“These Muslims never follow the laws,” Sein Lwin said. “They are trying to seize land and extend their territory in northern Rakhine and kill Rakhine ethnics.”
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported that apart from the special training for new police recruits, “healthy Rakhine women” and wives of members of the security forces had received military training in January.
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.
“I don’t care about salary,” said Than Lwin Oo, a 24-year-old waiter from the northern Buthidaung township who failed a college entrance exam – a requirement to join the regular police.
“I dislike the Muslim who try to intimidate our country. That is one of the reasons why I want to become a policeman.”
And days later, Muslims do what they do best, and get caught: Myanmar police arrest Muslims over Yangon bombings
Myanmar police said Saturday they had arrested three Muslims for planting home-made bombs around Yangon and were investigating their links to “terrorists” in Rakhine state, where the army is cracking down on the Muslim Rohingya minority.
“The three suspects have already been arrested with a bomb-making kit. They are Muslims,” a policeman told AFP, adding that they “admitted they made the other explosives.”