The Myanmar government has formed an investigative team to probe on the killing of a local World Health Organization worker in volatile Rakhine state last month, local lawmakers said.
However, the government’s motive is viewed with skepticism as witnesses and rights activists believe authorities will use the process to blame its foe, the Arakan Army.
On April 20, unknown gunmen fired on a U.N.-marked vehicle driven by local WHO employee PyaeSone Win Maung and Myanmar health department worker Aung Myo Oo, who were transporting COVID-19 test samples from the conflict zone to Yangon.
It is still not know whether the Myanmar military or the rebel Arakan Army (AA) was behind the shooting, though both sides have blamed the other for the ambush that killed PyaeSone Win Muang and injured Aung Myo Oo.
The investigative team began their work on Wednesday in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe.
“We can say they have started their investigative work since they are in Rakhine state,” state lawmaker Hla Thein Aung told RFA on Thursday. .
State lawmakers also recommended that the investigative committee take measures to protect the safety of witnesses to the shooting.
“As far as we know, the witnesses are scared of them,” said Aung Win, a state lawmaker who represents Myebon township. “They should show that they can protect the witnesses for whatever testimonies they provide.”
“Both military troops and the AA fired the gunshots, so it’s difficult to conclude who is responsible for the shooting,” he said. “But we’ve got the witnesses, so it is essential to give them protection from possible danger on account of whatever information they provide.”
Dr. Aung Thurein, a member of the investigative committee, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he was not ready to answer media questions.
Myanmar President Office spokesman Zaw Htay told a press conference on May 1 that an investigation would be conducted to satisfy the international community because an employee from an international organization was killed.
He also said that the probe would confirm that AA was responsible for the attack.
Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a human rights education group, said Zaw Htay’s comments blaming the AA could undermine the investigative committee’s objectivity.
“That the spokesman of the President’s Office accused the AA is irresponsible,” he told RFA. “He said the committee is investigating the incident only to relieve international pressure.”
“This statement could affect the objectivity of the committee,” he said. “It suggests that the committee’s work will be focused on finding proof that the AA is responsible.”
Nearly 300 local domestic groups issued a statement on April 23 requesting that the government form an independent and objective committee to investigate the deadly incident.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA on May 1 that the rebel force, which is fighting Myanmar troops for greater autonomy for the Rakhine people in the state, would not cooperate with the investigative committee, but would work only with an independent, international probe.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun said soldiers will cooperate with the investigation.
Myanmar has launched a series of investigations of military misdeeds, but none have produced results judged meaningful by victims or human rights experts.
“The lack of independence of Myanmar’s judges, as well as the current constitutional and legal framework that prevents the civilian authorities from holding the military or its members accountable for human rights violations significantly dims the prospects for any credible justice mechanism in Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch said in a December 2019 analysis. (Source: RFA)