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Rakhine still excluded from Myanmar ceasefire

Fears intensify over lack of monitoring of military operations following an Internet blackout

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Rakhine still excluded from Myanmar ceasefire

A file image of Myanmar police in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe on Nov. 15, 2018. (AFP photo)

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Troubled Rakhine State in Myanmar has been excluded by the military from a wider ceasefire in the nation’s north that has been extended, for a second time, until Aug. 31.

The military announced June 30 that the ceasefire was being prolonged in keeping with the desire of local ethnic minority peoples for the advancement of efforts to achieve peace.

It declared a four-month ceasefire in northern and eastern Myanmar Dec. 21 that was further renewed to June 30.

But, once again, Rakhine which has experienced dual conflicts centered on Muslim ethnic-Rohingya and the largely Buddhist Arakan Army (AA), has been left out.

Pe Than, a lower house member for the Arakan National Party (ANP) in Rakhine State's legislature, said the lack of a ceasefire in Rakhine underscored the military's goal of wiping out the AA.

He said ordinary citizens were bearing the brunt of regular military clashes with the militia.

Yan Myo Thein, a Yangon-based political observer, called for a unilateral nationwide military ceasefire.

"Among the government, the military and ethnic armed groups, it is important to do trust-building and find political agreements so that the stalled peace process may move forward," Yan Myo Thein told ucanews.com.

Ongoing fighting, in Rakhine as well as in neighboring Chin State, has displaced more than 35,000 people.

The Arakan Army is a majority-Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy from the national government for ethnic Rakhine people in the state.

Amid the military's 'clearance' operations against the militia, the government shut down Internet access in nine townships of Rakhine and Chin states.

Human Rights Watch complained that the information blackout, not least in relation to use of 'WhatsApp', has increased difficulties for humanitarian agencies and human rights' groups to assist vulnerable populations in the face of the intensified hostilities.

The United States has called for an end to the Internet ban as it undermined outside monitoring of the impacts of fighting between the military and the AA.

"Internet services should be restored without delay," the U.S. State Department said in a June 29 statement.

It added that a resumption of services would help "facilitate transparency and accountability" for what the government claims are law enforcement actions aimed at "preventing further outbreaks of violence in the affected areas."

Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, has warned that the Internet shutdown during the military offensive could be used as "a cover for committing gross human rights' violations against the civilian population."

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