YANGON - An independent commission established by the Myanmar government to investigate allegations of gross human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state has begun its probe by visiting the area, the state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported Saturday.
The commission, led by Rosario Manalo, former deputy foreign minister of the Philippines, visited Maungdaw in the conflict-stricken northern part of Rakhine by helicopter Friday and met with local officials and villagers there, the paper said.
The four-member commission, which was set up last month by the government of Myanmar, includes two international members — Manalo and Kenzo Oshima, Japan’s former ambassador to the United Nations.
Its two other members are Myanmar nationals: Mya Thein, a former head of the Constitutional Tribunal, and Aung Tun Thet, a former senior official of UNICEF.
Myanmar has been under increasing pressure from the United Nations and the international community over alleged atrocities committed by its security forces against Rohingya Muslims living in the western state.
According to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, more than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh since last August.
They fled to escape a harsh crackdown launched by the Myanmar government in reprisal for attacks by an armed Rohingya faction against government security posts.
During the one-day visit to Maungdaw via Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, the committee members visited the Ngakhuya reception center built by the Myanmar government for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees returning from Bangladesh, the newspaper report said.
Afterwards, the committee members said the visit to Rakhine “provided them the opportunity to have better understanding of the situation on the ground and to hear the voices of the different communities,” according to a commission press statement published by the newspaper.
The trip to Rakhine followed a series of meetings between the commission members and top government officials Wednesday and Thursday in the Myanmar capital of Naypyitaw.
The committee members met with the country’s de facto leader, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, deputy military chief Vice Senior Gen. Soe Win and other Cabinet members, the newspaper said.
In its press release, the commission in particular expressed appreciation to Vice Senior Gen. Soe Win and union home affairs minister Lt. Gen. Kyaw Swe for their “openness” during the meetings, saying the members were “heartened by the assurance of their full cooperation” for the work of the commission.