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UN alarmed over spike in civilian casualties in Rakhine

Experts urge Myanmar govt to lift restrictions and grant immediate access to media and NGOs

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UN alarmed over spike in civilian casualties in Rakhine

Ethnic Chin people hold placards during a protest in Yangon in July 2019 asking for an end to conflict in Chin and Rakhine states between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army. (Photo: Sai Aung Main/AFP)

Independent UN human rights experts have expressed grave concerns over the killing and displacement of civilians in Rakhine state, western Myanmar, where the conflict between the military and the Arakan Army is intensifying.

“Civilians, including children, continue to bear the brunt of this escalating conflict. We are especially fearful for them as violence has increased in the areas where an internet shutdown was recently reimposed,” the experts said in a joint statement on Feb. 18.

They said credible reports show that fighting and possible use of heavy weapons has taken place near ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya villages.

Reports indicate that in the last 10 days up to 1,100 people have been displaced, including 600 civilians from We Ma Kya village in Kyauktaw.

At least seven civilians have been killed, including three Rohingya in Buthidaung, and up to 50 injured, including 21 Khami children who came under fire at an elementary school on Feb. 13.

One Rohingya boy died on his way to the hospital after being hurt in the shelling and seven civilians were reportedly wounded including three Rohingya, according to the experts.

“We are gravely concerned that children are being killed and injured, and that reports suggest weapons are being used indiscriminately and precautions are not being taken to protect civilians and civilian objects such as schools and monasteries, in violation of international humanitarian law,” the experts said.

A curfew that has been in place since April 2019 is restricting overnight movement and has hampered access to medical assistance. The government has stopped transport by boat on the Kalantan River between Paletwa, Chin state and Kyauktaw, Rakhine state, and there have been disruptions to other public transport from Paletwa to Kyauktaw.

At least 50,000 people are displaced in 119 sites in Rakhine and more than 1,800 people are displaced in 12 sites in Chin state, according to a UN report in January.

Internet blackout 

The experts said the internet shutdown in Rakhine and neighboring Chin severely affects the human rights of over a million people, including the right to safety, security, health, education, food, shelter, livelihood, freedom of expression, information, participation, association and assembly.

It can also have serious consequences on civilian protection and, potentially, the right to life, they said, adding that the blanket suspension of mobile internet cannot be justified and must end immediately.

“The government must also lift its restrictions and grant immediate access to the media, humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors.”

The Arakan Army is a largely Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy for indigenous ethnic Rakhine in the state.

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

The UN experts issuing the statement were Yanghee Lee, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues.

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