Migrant workers returning from China sit at the Myanmar border gate in Muse in Shan state on May 12. Hundreds of migrant workers have been steadily returning to Myanmar. (Photo: Phyo Maung Maung/AFP)
United Nations Security Council (UNSC) European members are increasing pressure on Myanmar to call a nationwide ceasefire as the escalating conflict in Rakhine and Chin states is a precarious situation.
Britain said it was concerned about the escalation of conflict in Rakhine and Chin and “the heavy toll this is taking on civilians at the time of a global Covid-19 crisis.”
The conflict has already led to a spike in internal displacement, additional restrictions on humanitarian access and an increased number of civilian casualties.
“All this comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic puts vulnerable populations at risk of a humanitarian emergency, especially refugees, IDPs and the Rohingya community who face additional restrictions,” Britain said in a statement on May 14.
The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has called a ceasefire over Covid-19 from May 10 to Aug. 31 but Rakhine and Chin states, where intense fighting between the military and the Arakan Army continues, are excluded from the truce.
Renewed conflict that erupted in December 2018 has claimed scores of civilian lives and more than 157,000 people have been displaced in Rakhine and Chin states.
EU members Belgium, Estonia, France and Germany have called for “an immediate, comprehensive and nationwide ceasefire” and support the UN secretary-general’s appeal for “a global ceasefire.”
“We emphasize the importance of an inclusive response to the Covid-19 pandemic that protects all communities and takes into account the vulnerability of refugees and internally displaced persons,” EU members said in a May 14 joint statement.
UN special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener gave a briefing on the situation in Myanmar to Security Council members.
China, Myanmar’s ally, has reportedly refused to endorse a document in which Britain and EU members denounced the violence.
The last UNSC meeting on Myanmar was in February. China, which backs Myanmar and regularly defends it from UN intervention, prevented the adoption of a joint statement by 15 council members.
Long-term underlying causes
Britain also raised concerns over creating conditions for a safe return of Rohingya refugees as “the conflict makes it more challenging to address the long-term underlying causes of conflict in Rakhine.”
“To create conditions conducive to the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of Rohingya refugees, remains an important and urgent priority,” Britain stressed.
EU members have urged Myanmar “to address the root causes of the conflict,” including by fully implementing the Rakhine Advisory Commission’s recommendations and “to ensure full accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.”
Myanmar has been under pressure from rights groups over its treatment of Rohingya in Rakhine, which the UN claims amounts to genocide.
More than 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh due to a bloody crackdown by the Tatmadaw in August 2017.
Next week 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 Aung San Suu Kyi, who has a power-sharing deal with the military, went to The Hague last December to defend her country’s reputation.
Myanmar has reported 181 cases of Covid-19 including six deaths and 84 recoveries, according to health officials.