UN condemns Myanmar military for attacks on civilians

Attacks by military in Rakhine State may constitute war crimes, says United Nations official
UN condemns Myanmar military for attacks on civilians

A youth stands inside his house damaged by explosions and gunfire in a village in Rathedaung township, Rakhine State, where fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army took place from Jan. 26-28. (AFP photo)

A United Nations official has condemned attacks directed at civilians in Rakhine State, warning they could be considered crimes of war.  

Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman from the U.N.’s Human Rights Office, said the international organization was deeply disturbed by the intensification of the conflict in the state over recent weeks.

“[We] condemn what appear to be indiscriminate attacks and attacks directed at civilians by the Myanmar military and armed fighters in the context of the ongoing fighting with the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army,” she said on April 5.

There had been “credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions, indiscriminate fire in civilian areas, and damage to cultural property,” Shamdasani said

“The fighting has impacted on civilians of various ethnicities in Rakhine and Chin states, including Rakhine, Rohingya, Chin, Mro and Daignet,” she said.

The spokeswoman called on both the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military to immediately cease hostilities and to ensure that civilians are protected.

“As the international community is taking steps towards accountability for the crimes committed against civilians in previous years, the Myanmar military is again carrying out attacks against its own civilians — attacks which may constitute war crimes,” she said. 

Conflict in Rakhine State

The Arakan Army is a largely Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhines in the state, where there is also a conflict between government forces and Rohingya Muslims.

At least seven civilians were killed and 18 injured when two Myanmar military helicopters attacked a village in northern Rakhine State on April 3.

More than 20,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting that has occurred near several townships in Rakhine in recent weeks, according to reports received by the U.N. Human Rights Office.

The recent helicopter attack also occurred in an area that had seen the displacement of 4,000 Rohingya Muslims between March 25-30.

Pe Than, a lower house lawmaker for the Arakan National Party (ANP) in Rakhine State, said civilians have endured the brunt of the escalation of fighting.

“The U.N. and the European Union need to closely monitor the overall conflict situation and the impact on all civilians, not just focusing on Rohingya civilians,” Pe Than told ucanews.com.

Ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine captured global headlines after a bloody Myanmar military crackdown in August 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

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A U.N. fact-finding mission found that Myanmar's military had committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against the Rohingya. It said military chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals must be prosecuted for genocide and war crimes against humanity.

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