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Thousands Force to Flee their Homes in Face of Escalating Fight in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

It says it has received credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions and other forms of abuse

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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

The U.N. Human Rights Office says more than 20,000 civilians in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State have been forced to flee their homes in recent weeks in the face of escalating fighting between the Myanmar military and the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army.

The U.N. condemns what appear to be indiscriminate attacks against civilians by the military, as well as violence perpetrated by armed fighters in Rakhine state.

It says it has received credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions and other forms of abuse.

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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

U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said that on April 3 two military helicopters fired on civilians tending cows and paddy fields. She said at least seven civilians were killed and 18 others injured in the incident.

“As the international community is taking steps towards accountability for crimes against civilians in previous years, the Myanmar military is again carrying out attacks against its own civilians – attacks which may constitute war crimes. The consequences of impunity will continue to be deadly,” she said.

Shamdasani said all victims in this week’s attack were Rohingya Muslims. But she noted civilians of various ethnicities have come under fire in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state.

She told VOA the Rakhine Arakan Army that is fighting the Myanmar military recruits mainly from among the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist community. She said the group and its issues are distinct from the Rohingya Muslim community.

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Myanmar villagers who fled their communities when government soldiers conducted door-to-door searches for members of an ethnic armed group take shelter in Aung Mingalar Monastery in Mrauk-U township, western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, March 20, 2019. RFA

“This is an armed group that was formed, I believe, almost a decade ago and they have got their own grievances about the lack of proper governance, consultation by the central government with these communities. They have economic grievances – all sorts of gripes with the government about injustice that they have been suffering through the years,” Shamdasani said.

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The U.N. spokeswoman said their complaints are quite different from those of the Rohingya Muslims in the same region, who are suffering from systematic discrimination.

The U.N. rights office is calling on the warring groups to immediately stop their hostilities, to ensure civilians are protected and to grant humanitarian access to all areas of northern Rakhine. (VOA)

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UN Appeals to Aid Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Rohingya Refugee Crisis Has Bangladesh, UN Calling for Help

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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.

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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

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) 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.

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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

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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

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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.

Dissenters

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)