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Myanmar military calls unilateral ceasefire in Covid-19 fight

Areas where the separatist Arakan Army operates are excluded from the four-month truce

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Myanmar military calls unilateral ceasefire in Covid-19 fight

Airport staff unload boxes of Covid-19 test kits donated by the EU and Switzerland under a UN-organized humanitarian flight on arrival at Yangon International Airport on May 10. (Photo: Sai Aung Main/AFP)

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Myanmar’s military has announced a nearly four-month unilateral ceasefire to allow the conflict-torn nation to fight Covid-19, but it excludes areas where the Arakan Army operates.

The military, or Tatmadaw, issued a statement on May 9 that there will be a ceasefire from May 10 to Aug. 31 with the aim of effectively and rapidly carrying out the containment, prevention and treatment of Covid-19 and restoring eternal peace.

During the ceasefire period, all ethnic armed groups should strictly abide by all laws and not engage in activities that burden the people, it said.

“The Tatmadaw will continuously strive for realizing its pledge to entrust eternal peace that the ethnic people long for into the hands of the people and will effectively participate in Covid-19 pandemic containment as a state cause and national cause,” said the military’s commander-in-office.

The move comes after the United Nations secretary-general and Pope Francis called for a global ceasefire to fight together against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon said conflicts continue despite schools and factories being closed and people in Asia living under restrictions.

“Military commanders of government and ethnic armies, as if they believe that their weapons are more powerful than this virus, continue to expose their soldiers, continuously endanger civilians and risk a conflagration of contagion among the people of their nations,” Cardinal Bo said in a letter on May 9.

Myanmar has reported 180 cases of Covid-19 with six deaths and 72 recoveries, according to health officials.

Rakhine, Chin excluded from truce

Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states, where the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army have been locked in intense fighting, are excluded from the truce.

On March 23, the government designated the Arakan Army a terrorist organization while another group — the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army — is also classified as a terrorist group whose attacks in August 2017 prompted the military’s brutal crackdown against the Rohingya.

Rakhine was also excluded from the nine-month unilateral ceasefire imposed by the Tatmadaw in 2018.

The Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army have been locked in an intensifying fight since December 2018 that has led to scores of civilian fatalities and more than 157,000 people being displaced in Rakhine and Chin states.

The Arakan Army is a largely Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy for indigenous Rakhine in the state. The guerrilla outfit was established in 2009 to protect ethnic Rakhine and is estimated to have several thousand well-equipped soldiers.

Rakhine also has a separate conflict that has seen more than 700,000 Rohingya flee to Bangladesh since August 2017 due to military offensives.

Myanmar has been under pressure from rights groups over atrocities against Rohingya in Rakhine, which the United Nations claims “amounts to genocide.”

Outgoing UN rights expert Yanghee Lee recently said Myanmar’s military is committing new war crimes against ethnic minorities, “emboldened by special extended powers intended to help control the spread of Covid-19.”

This month Myanmar is due to report back to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to present the measures it is taking to protect the ethnic minority.

Gambia filed genocide charges against Myanmar at the ICJ and Suu Kyi, who has a power-sharing deal with the military, went to The Hague last December to defend her country’s reputation.

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