YANGON (Reuters) - Human rights advocates have called on Myanmar to investigate the death of a young woman from the country’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, who died this month after being found naked and unconscious near a military base.
The woman, identified as Raysuana, 25, was found by a road next to an army compound in Sittwe, the capital of the conflict-torn Rakhine State in western Myanmar, residents and rights group Amnesty International said.
She had gone missing while walking in an area where more than 100,000 Rohingya have been living in camps since Sittwe was roiled by communal violence in 2012, Amnesty said in a statement late on Tuesday.
Most of the displaced are Rohingya Muslims, a group that many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The stateless Rohingya are prevented from moving freely and their access to healthcare and education is restricted.
Hla Myint, a Rohingya administrator, told Reuters he was called by a corporal from an army artillery unit and asked to collect the unconscious Raysuana early on Aug. 18.
“She was still breathing when I saw her, but she was lying on the ground. There were no clothes on her body (apart from a bra) but someone had covered her with a blanket,” Hla Myint said.
She was taken to a village clinic where attendants noticed bruising on her neck and bleeding from her vagina, Hla Myint said.
The woman died that evening, he said.
Residents of conflict-plagued ethnic minority regions and human rights workers have for years accused Myanmar troops of rights abuses including rape. The Myanmar army routinely dismisses such accusations.
Government and military spokesmen were not immediately available for comment on the latest case. A police officer in the area said the woman had died of natural causes.
The military ruled Myanmar with an iron first for almost 50 years until it began stepping back from politics in 2011, paving the way for an election last year swept by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi. It retains a powerful role in politics.
If soldiers were found to have been involved in harming the Rohingya woman, it could set back a new push by the military to change its image into a responsible partner in a democratic transition.
A Rohingya aid worker in the area who declined to be identified told Reuters he saw Raysuana after she was taken to the small, ill-equipped clinic.
“She was still alive but she couldn’t speak,” the aid worker said, adding that women on the scene suspected Raysuana had been raped.
No autopsy was performed on the body - which was buried by the woman’s family - and authorities did not investigate the death, Hla Myint and the aid worker said.
“Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar authorities to immediately initiate an investigation into the death and alleged rape of Raysuana, ensuring that it is independent, impartial and effective,” said the group.
Yan Naing Latt, a major with Sittwe police, said a murder investigation had not been launched.
We didn’t open a murder case because it’s just a normal death,” he said, but could not explain what may have caused the woman’s death.
In what was seen as an attempt by the military to change its reputation for impunity in abuse cases, last month it said that troops had killed five villagers in the north of the country and sent the troops to a military court. [L4N1A63AJ]
Editing by Antoni Slodkowski, Robert Birsel