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UN alert as fighting intensifies in Myanmar's Rakhine

Civilians caught up in conflict as military launches offensive to rescue soldiers abducted by Arakan Army

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UN alert as fighting intensifies in Myanmar's Rakhine

Ethnic Chin people hold placards during a protest in Yangon on July 13 calling for an end to conflict in Chin and Rakhine states where fighting continues between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army. (AFP photo)

The United Nations is deeply concerned over stepped-up fighting between Myanmar’s military and Arakan rebels that affects innocent civilians in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, said civilians have been caught up in an escalation of fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army in Rathedaung township in recent days.

“Human rights violations and abuses continue to be reported,” Haq told a press briefing on Oct.28.

“Insecurity and access restrictions across much of Rakhine state are impeding humanitarian organizations to assess and respond to the needs of affected people.”

Some 32,000 people remain displaced in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state in addition to the 129,000 internally displaced people, mostly Rohingya, who remain in camps in Rakhine, many for more than seven years. according to the UN.

The UN calls on all parties to the conflict “to adhere to international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians and facilitate timely access to people in need.”

The UN’s concern comes after the latest flare-up in conflict-torn Rakhine as the Arakan Army abducted more than 40 police officers and soldiers in a brazen raid on a ferry on Oct. 26.

Myanmar’s military attacked rebels with helicopters and rescued some abductees.

“The Tatmadaw used helicopters and ground units to find the abductees and 15 of them have been rescued until now,” the military said in a statement on Oct. 28. “The Tatmadaw search and rescue columns are finding more abductees.”

The military said some abductees were killed in an exchange of gunfire between military helicopters and Arakan Army boats and ground forces.

The conflict in Rakhine has killed at least 90 civilians and displaced thousands of civilians since hostilities escalated last December.

The Arakan Army is a largely Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy from the national government for so-called indigenous "ethnic Rakhine" in the state.

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

Rights groups have accused Myanmar’s soldiers of committing war crimes including extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests in its fresh campaign against the Arakan Army.

Both the military and Arakan Army have denied accusations over rights abuses as violence has continued in an area that remains sealed off to independent monitors and media.

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