Myanmar’s early release of seven soldiers who were jailed for killing a group of Rohingya Muslims is drawing criticism from rights activists. Four officers and three enlisted service members were freed last November, Reuters first reported, after being sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison with hard labor for killing 10 Rohingya men and boys the year before.
Prisons department head Myint Soe confirmed to reporters Tuesday in Yangon the soldiers were “no longer in custody,” but he declined to provide more information.
The soldiers served less time than two Reuters reporters who were jailed for exposing the massacre. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were jailed last September after being sentenced to seven years on charges linked to their reporting. They served 500 days and then were released after receiving a presidential pardon.
The massacre occurred during a military crackdown in 2017 that forced nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
United Nations investigators have said the violence warrants the prosecution of top military leaders for “genocide.” The International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary investigation into the killings.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director told the VOA Burmese Service the early release of the soldiers reveals that top Myanmar military leaders “don’t really consider the Rohingya to be human, and were never committed to seeing anyone held accountable for their crimes in Rakhine state.”
Asia Human Rights Commission attorney Min Lwin Oo said in an interview with VOA Burmese the soldiers’ early release “obviously shows that the military does not care about the judicial system.”
The Rohingya are widely viewed in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The military has justified its 2017 crackdown, which involved mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson, as a way of eradicating Rohingya insurgents. (VOA)
The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there.
“To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of ‘Border Haat’ has been identified in four places — Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram,” Mizoram Commerce and Industries Minister R. Lalthangliana told IANS.
The Minister said, “The success of the “Border Haats” running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar ‘haats’ with Mynmar in Mizoram.”
Mizoram Commerce and Industries Department Director J. Hmingthanmawia said that the state government has sent the detailed proposals in this regard to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for its approval.
“Once we get the green signal from the MEA, we would seek funds from the Union Industries and Commerce Ministry,” Hmingthanmawia told IANS. He said that officials of the Mizoram government and Myanmar have recently conducted a joint survey and identified the locations to set up the “Border Haats”.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga in his Independence Day speech had said that the proposed “Border Haats” would become important trade points between India and Myanmar.
“Land Custom Station (LCS) at Zokhawthar, the lone trade route for Mizoram with South East Asian countries, is being proposed for upgradation. Construction of Trade Facilitation Centre at Tlabung has already been completed.”
“The Indian government has also proposed construction of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at four places at the border in Mizoram — Marpara, Tuipuibari, Silsuri and Nunsury. The construction of ICP at Kawrpuichhuah is also expected to commence shortly,” the Chief Minister added.
Mizoram has an unfenced international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been guarding the Bangladesh border and Assam Rifles personnel are posted on the border with Myanmar.
Experts and various studies suggest that if the “Border Haats” are set up, smuggling of drugs and other commodities would be checked to a large extent. Security expert Manas Paul said that large-scale smuggling of drugs from Myanmar via Mizoram and other neighbouring states has increased in the last few years.
“What is really worrisome is the fact that these synthetic drugs have got a domestic market inside the state, especially among the younger generation. Cross border legal activities including setting up of “Border Haats” could curb the smuggling of drugs and other contraband,” Paul, who has authored books on security and terrorism in the northeast, told IANS.
The CUTS International, a Jaipur based international NGO, with support from the World Bank, had conducted a study in 2016 to understand and examine the effect of “Border Haats” on poverty alleviation and other multiplier effects such as informal trade.
CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that trade will increase income, curb smuggling, and cross-border crimes will also go down.
“‘Border Haats’ have contributed to the border area development, roads have improved, trafficking of women has stopped, unemployment issues have been addressed,” said Chatterjee.
Currently four “Border Haats” are operational in Meghalaya and Tripura. The first “Border Haat” was started on July 23, 2011 at Kalaichar (India)-Kurigram (Bangladesh) in the West Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Three other “haats” followed in Meghalaya and Tripura.
The Union Industries and Commerce Ministry has been spending on an average Rs 3.5 crore to develop the infrastructure and necessary facilities for each “Border Haat” along the Bangladesh border. The Bangladesh government is not providing any funds for the purpose. (IANS)