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Myanmar airstrikes on civilians 'amount to war crimes'

Shocking testimonies collected by rights group reveal how deep impunity runs within military ranks

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Myanmar airstrikes on civilians 'amount to war crimes'

Myanmar military personnel at a camp in Yangon. Amnesty International has accused the military of killing civilians in indiscriminate airstrikes. (Photo: AFP)

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Myanmar’s military has killed civilians including children in indiscriminate airstrikes amid worsening conflict in the country’s Rakhine and Chin states, according to an Amnesty International (AI) report.

In a report released on July 8, the rights group presented new evidence that the Tatmadaw (military) bombed several villages in Chin state in March and April, killing more than a dozen people.

These attacks and other serious human rights violations by the Tatmadaw are taking place in townships where the internet has been cut off for more than a year.

In May and June, AI interviewed more than two dozen ethnic Rakhine and Chin people affected by military operations including airstrikes and shelling, analyzed fresh satellite imagery of razed villages and verified video footage showing violations carried out by the Tatmadaw.

In Chin state, three people from a cluster of ethnic Chin villages called Meik Sar Wa in Paletwa township described airstrikes which they said took place on March 14 and 15.

“The whole village saw the plane … the sound was so loud,” one resident told AI, adding that the attack happened around 11am.

After hearing explosions, he ran to his father’s house and found his brother with a fatal stomach wound as well as the body of his brother’s 16-year-old friend. He said his uncle, who was in a different house at the time, was also killed in the same airstrike.

Two people from another family in the same village cluster told AI that an airstrike killed nine people in their community, including a seven-year-old boy. “Our family is destroyed,” the boy’s father said.

Seven people were killed and eight wounded in another round of aerial raids in Paletwa on April 7, according to the report that cited testimony from a farmer.

Nicholas Bequelin, AI’s Asia-Pacific regional director, said that while Myanmar authorities were urging people to stay at home to help stem the spread of Covid-19 in Rakhine and Chin states, its military was burning down homes and killing civilians in “indiscriminate attacks that amount to war crimes.”

“Despite mounting international pressure on the military’s operations in the area, including at the International Court of Justice, the shocking testimonies we have collected show just how deep impunity continues to run within Myanmar military ranks,” Bequelin said.

The Tatmadaw’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians came amid a surge in fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, a group seeking autonomy for ethnic Buddhist Rakhine who make up most of the state’s population.

Rakhine is also home to the mostly Rohingya Muslims and borders Chin state where the majority are ethnic Chin Christians.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to free their homes due to unrest and people from several townships where the internet has been shut down are in the dark over the threat from Covid-19 and deprived of information about humanitarian assistance.

AI said it collected testimony from witnesses who recalled arbitrary detention and torture, and verified video footage showing abuses by the Tatmadaw.

The rights agency has called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.

“The reliance on airstrikes and internet blackouts may be new, but one constant is the military’s remorseless neglect for civilian life,” Bequelin said. “This relentless pattern of violations is clearly a matter for the ICC. The Security Council must act.”

Myanmar has been under legal pressure from the world including at the ICJ over its treatment of the Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Rakhine following the military’s crackdown in August 2017.

In January, the UN’s top court ordered Myanmar’s government to take immediate steps to prevent genocide.

Myanmar’s civilian government and the military are yet to respond to the AI report.

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