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Helicopter Attack on Six Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

“Yes, we used helicopters and necessary equipment during the fighting,” he said

myanmar, rakhine
A Myanmar border guard policeman stands near a group of Rohingya Muslims in front of their homes in a village in Buthidaung township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Jan. 25, 2019. RFA

Myanmar’s military said on Friday that the army used helicopters in war-torn Rakhine state two days earlier to prevent armed Arakan separatists from launching offensives, and claimed that six Rohingya Muslim civilians killed by a chopper attack at the time were working with the Arakan Army (AA).

Military spokesman Major General Tun Tun Nyi told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the army used helicopters on April 3 to deter the AA from firing at its troops. “Yes, we used helicopters and necessary equipment during the fighting,” he said.

The military-run Myawady newspaper said the army acted after it had received a confirmed report that about 150 AA troops were positioned around Sai Din Creek in Buthidaung township, and that the helicopter assault killed six Rohingya and injured nine others during the fighting.

The six Rohingya reported dead by the military were from Thayet Pyin, Dabyu Chaung, King Taung, Hteik Htoo Pauk, and Hpon Nyo Leik villages and were with AA “terrorist” troops while the battle was taking place, the newspaper said. About a dozen others were wounded by the aerial gunfire.

“We have been questioning the injured and people who had been involved [with the AA] during the fighting,” Tun Tun Nyi said. “They are not from one place. It is obvious to conclude that they could be AA members because people from four or five villages were all together in the same [combat] place with the AA.

rakhine, myanmar
Rohingya refugees gather near a fence in the ‘no man’s land’ zone between the Myanmar and Bangladesh border as seen from Maungdaw district, western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Aug. 24, 2018. Credit: AFP. RFA

“The other reason is they are AA members or ordinary people whom the AA asked to help them,” he said. “Some people could have been forced by the AA to go with them. We are questioning them.”

He did not explain how the Muslim Rohingya could possibly work with the AA, a group of Rakhine nationalists and Buddhists historically hostile to the Rohingya. Local Rakhines were seen helping the Myanmar army during its 2016-17 campaign that drove 740,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Effects of war

Local residents told RFA on Thursday that at least 10 Rohingya working at the Sai Din bamboo production site died and more than a dozen others were injured by the Myanmar military’s aerial attack during fighting between the two armed forces near the Sai Din mountain range.

But AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied that Arakan forces engaged in combat with Myanmar troops in the area where the helicopter attack occurred and said that government forces have routinely fired artillery and arms indiscriminately.

When RFA contacted asked Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun of the Myanmar military’s information team on Thursday, he confirmed that a battle took place in Buthidaung north of Yae Soe Chaung village.

But he referred questions about the Rohingya killed during a helicopter attack to Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command responsible for Rakhine state. RFA could not reach Win Zaw Oo because his mobile phone was switched off.

Hostilities between the government army and the AA, which is battling Myanmar forces in several Rakhine townships in its quest for greater autonomy in the state, reignited in late 2018 and exploded in early January after Arakan soldiers conducted deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.

FILE – A local resident holds up bullet casings in a village in Rathedaung township, Rakhine state, after fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine force, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

In response to the attacks, the Myanmar government branded the AA a terrorist group and instructed its forces to crush it.

Between Jan. 4 and March 28, the fighting claimed the lives of 58 AA soldiers, 27 policemen, and 12 civilians, according to the Myanmar government. The number of Myanmar soldiers who have died has not yet been disclosed.

The Rakhine state government estimates that more than 26,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting, while a Rakhine ethnic NGO puts the number at nearly 28,700 as of April 2.

Though the central and state government has provided relief assistance and supplies to the displaced civilians, Rakhine NGOs have said some temporary camps lack enough drinking water and food and that security issues have made it impossible to travel to certain areas. The Myanmar government has prevented almost all humanitarian aid groups from accessing the region as of January.

OHCHR condemns military

Also on Friday, the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) expressed concern about attacks on civilians as fighting has escalated in Rakhine state, saying that the Myanmar military’s helicopter assaults could amount to “war crimes.”

“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,” said a statement issued by OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani. “The consequences of impunity will continue to be deadly.”

Sources on the ground in Buthidaung told the OHCHR that two military helicopters flew over Hpon Nyo Leik village tract — an area that has seen the large-scale displacement of Rohingya civilians in recent days — and fired on civilians tending cows and paddy fields, killing at least seven and injuring 18 others.

FILE – Residents carry the body of an ethnic Rakhine woman for burial in Rathedaung township, after fresh fighting in Rakhine state between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine force, Feb. 21, 2019. VOA

Roughly 4,000 Rohingya were displaced between March 25 and 30 from villages along the road connecting Buthidaung and neighboring Rathedaung township, forcing them to flee west to seek shelter in areas including Hpon Nyo Leik village tract, the OHCHR said.

The OHCHR called on the Myanmar military and AA to immediately end the hostilities and to ensure that civilians are protected.

“We are deeply disturbed by the intensification of the conflict in Rakhine state in recent weeks, and 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,” the statement said.

‘Not allowed to come here’

Meanwhile, a top official at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that a new U.N. Human Rights Council envoy will not be allowed to visit the country to conduct investigations of human rights violations in Rakhine, focusing on atrocities committed against the Rohingya and other minority groups.

Chan Aye, the ministry’s director general, told RFA that Myanmar will turn away U.S. attorney Nicholas Koumjian, the head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar by the U.N., and his team members.

“They will not be allowed to come,” he said. “This is an issue of our sovereignty.”

“They would conduct one-sided investigations,” he said.

“From the very beginning, there was bias in their missions and purposes, so they were banned from coming here,” Chan Aye said about other U.N.-appointed human rights envoys.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced Koumjian as the first head of the mechanism, established by the Human Rights Council in September 2018.

The independent investigative panel will collect and analyze evidence of serious international crimes and international law violations committed in Myanmar since 2011 and prepare files that will facilitate criminal proceedings against perpetrators.

“We strongly objected to it at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in September 2018,” Chan Aye said.

Myanmar, rakhine
Villagers who fled their homes when the Myanmar Army fired into their communities seek refuge in a monastery in Mrauk-U township, western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, March 18, 2018.

He said that Koumjian’s team could gather the necessary information from other U.N. organizations operating inside Myanmar.

“Although the investigation team is not allowed to go there, they could ask U.N. officials who have visited the conflict region,” Aye Chan said. “There are also employees from agencies working in the area. We have allowed them to. They can get information from these sources.”

‘Plenty of other resources’

Thar Aye, a Rohingya activist and political analyst on the Rakhine issue, agreed that the independent investigative team can gather information on human rights violations and conduct its probe without entering Myanmar.

“Even without entry, they will have plenty of other resources from which to gather data for their investigation,” he said. “They have their networks spread across the world.”

But Thar Aye added that keeping the investigators out of Myanmar will complicate the situation.

“Denying them entry will damage the country’s credibility in the eyes of the international community,” he said.

Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a Myanmar-based NGO that focuses on human rights education and advocacy programs, agreed that rejecting the investigation panel would come at Myanmar’s expense.

“They will try to get the required information from whomever they can,” he said. “They will go to places like the Bangladeshi border for their investigation. What happens next is the Myanmar government no longer has the opportunity to confirm the validity of the information they get from somewhere else. We will lose the opportunity to prove our side of the story.”

Some officials and politicians in Myanmar said they objected to the new investigative panel.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, Myo Nyunt, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), and Nanda Hla Myint, spokesman of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said they do not agree with the U.N.’s decision and will not accept the team’s investigations.

The Rohingya influx from Myanmar to Bangladesh is a serious common security challenge for the entire region, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Harsh Vardhan Shringla said here.
Rohingya Refugees, wikimedia commons

A previous U.N. fact-finding mission established by a Human Rights Council mandate investigated atrocities committed against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state during a military-led crackdown in 2017, and in Kachin and Shan states where the Myanmar military is engaged in fighting with ethnic armed groups.

A report the mission issued in September 2018 found that the Myanmar military had committed serious human rights violations against civilians and had violated international humanitarian law in all three states.

It also called for the prosecution of top commanders before The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for ordering atrocities against the Rohingya.

The Myanmar government, which has largely denied that its forces committed atrocities against the Rohingya and were responsible for driving 740,000 of them across the border to Bangladesh, rejected the report.

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Other U.N. rights officials, including former U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, and Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, have called for the prosecution of those responsible for committing suspected acts of genocide against the Rohingya.

In late 2017, the Myanmar government barred Lee from visiting the country to assess the rights situation after it deemed a previous mission report she issued was biased and unfair. (RFA)

Reported by Thiri Min Zin and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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UN Appeals to Aid Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Rohingya Refugee Crisis Has Bangladesh, UN Calling for Help

Rohingya refugees
Rohingya refugees wait in an area following a boat capsizing accident, in Teknaf. VOA

By Lisa Schlein

The U.N. refugee and migration agencies are jointly appealing for $877 million to aid 855,000 Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled violence and persecution from Myanmar three years ago, and more than 444,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis hosting them.

More than half of the money will provide vital services, including food, shelter, clean water and sanitation.  The rest of the appeal will be used for health, protection, education, site management, energy and environmental needs.

Shahriar Alam of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says his government has welcomed this large exiled population within its midst.  But he acknowledges their presence poses challenges and that the solution to the plight of the Rohingya refugees is repatriation to Myanmar when that becomes possible. But this is unlikely to happen, he says, without the vigorous support of the International community.

“We expect that U.N. member countries to do more and work closely and do everything possible to put pressure on Myanmar to take their citizenship back in a manner, a repatriation that is safe, voluntary, and dignified,” Alam said.

Rohingya refugees
Coast guards escort Rohingya refugees following a boat capsizing accident, in Teknaf. VOA

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi agrees that Bangladesh deserves support for hosting nearly one million Rohingya.  He laments the short attention span of the media and the international community who quickly move from one crisis to another.

As a consequence, he says the Rohingya have become largely forgotten.  He agrees with the Government of Bangladesh that the solution continues to be in Myanmar.

“The problem is that things that need to be done there to create conditions for refugees to return from Bangladesh into Myanmar are too slow or not happening yet–freedom of movement, return of internally displaced people that are in camps in Rakhine State,” Grandi said.

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Grandi says those who return should be granted housing, land, and property rights and be given the education and training they need to be able to work.  But the most fundamental step of all, he says, is for the Rohingya to be given a path to citizenship.

The Rohingya who have lived in Myanmar for generations were stripped of their citizenship in 1982. (VOA)

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Facebook Removes Fake Accounts From Russia, Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar

Facebook purges more fake accounts from Russia, Iran

) Facebook has removed three networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in foreign or government interference on Facebook and Instagram. Pixabay

Facebook has removed three networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in foreign or government interference on Facebook and Instagram that originated in Russia, Iran, Vietnam and Myanmar.

The first operation originated in Russia and primarily targeted Ukraine and its neighbouring countries and the second originated in Iran and focused mainly on the US.

“The third network originated in Myanmar and Vietnam and targeted audiences in Myanmar. Each of them created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Security Policy, said in a blog post late Wednesday.

Facebook removed 78 accounts, 11 Pages, 29 Groups and four Instagram accounts in Russia for violating its policy against foreign or government interference.

Facebook also removed 6 Facebook accounts and 5 Instagram accounts that were involved in foreign interference as part of a small network originating in Iran that primarily focused on the US. Pixabay

Some of these accounts represented themselves as citizen journalists and tried to contact policymakers, journalists and other public figures in the region.

“Although the people behind this network attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to Russian military intelligence services,” said Gleicher.

Facebook also removed 6 Facebook accounts and 5 Instagram accounts that were involved in foreign interference as part of a small network originating in Iran that primarily focused on the US.

They shared posts about political news and geopolitics including topics like the US elections, Christianity, US-Iran relations, US immigration policy, criticism of US policies in the Middle East and public figures.

“Finally, we removed 13 Facebook accounts and 10 Pages for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behaviour. This Myanmar-focused activity originated in Myanmar and Vietnam,” said the company.

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The individuals behind this network used fake accounts to manage Pages posing as independent telecom consumer news hubs. They also purported to be customers of some of the telecom providers in Myanmar posting critical commentary about those companies and their services.

The investigation found links to two telecom providers — Mytel in Myanmar and Viettel in Vietnam, and Gapit Communications, a PR firm in Vietnam. (IANS)

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UN to Allocate More Funds for War Crimes Inquiries in Syria and Myanmar

UN Increases 2020 Budget, Adds Funds for War Crimes Inquiries

Rohingya refugees attend a ceremony organised to remember the second anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia. VOA

The United Nations General Assembly Friday adopted a $3.07 billion operating budget that for the first time includes funding for the investigation of war crimes in Syria and Myanmar.

The budget represents a slight increase from 2019’s figure of $2.9 billion.

The increase was the result of additional missions assigned to the U.N. Secretariat, inflation and exchange rate adjustments, according to diplomats.

These include the observer mission in Yemen, a political mission established in Haiti, the investigation of crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, and in Myanmar after the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Syria, Myanmar inquiries

Myanmar Refugees
Rohingya refugees gather near a fence during a government organized media tour to a no-man’s land between Myanmar and Bangladesh, near Taungpyolatyar village, Maung Daw, northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. VOA

For the first time, the budgets for the Syria and Myanmar investigations, which were previously financed by voluntary contributions, will in 2020 be transferred to the U.N. secretariat’s budget and will receive compulsory contributions from the 193 member states.

Russia proposed multiple amendments during negotiations in the Committee on Budgetary Questions meeting and in the General Assembly plenary session.


At each vote, Russia, Syria, Myanmar and their supporters, including North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua and Venezuela, were outvoted. They all stated that they dissociated themselves from references to investigative mechanisms in the adopted resolutions.

Russia said it would examine its future obligatory payments in light of the vote outcome and predicted an increase in the arrears that currently plague the U.N.’s treasury because of countries not paying enough.

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Moscow argued Friday the investigative mechanism was illegitimate, while Damascus stressed that it had no mandate from the Security Council.

The U.N.’s operating budget is separate from the annual budget for peacekeeping operations of some $6 billion that is adopted in June. (VOA)