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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)

Next Story

Report: Conditions in Myanmar Not Safe for Return of Rohingya Refugees

Myanmar has presented Bangladesh with a list of more than 1,200 verified displaced persons who repeatedly expressed their desire to return, he said

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FILE - Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait in queues to receive aid at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh, Nov. 15, 2017. VOA

Conditions in Myanmar are far too dangerous for the safe, dignified return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to escape violence and persecution in their home country, according to a report by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

More than 730,000 Rohingya refugees are living in squalid, overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.  While conditions in Bangladesh remain dire, U.N. officials say the situation in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state is worse and far more threatening.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore presented the report to the U.N. council. She says Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state face serious discrimination, and continuous, systematic violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

“We continue to receive and can verify reports from a variety of sources, including reports on sexual and gender-based violence, that human rights violations continue, allegedly committed by members of the security forces,” Gilmore said. “The conditions conducive for refugee return simply do not exist.”

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Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wade past a waterlogged path leading to the Jamtoli refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh. VOA

Security forces attacked and burned Rohingya homes and shops in several townships in May, Gilmore reported. She said her office has received reports of disappearances, and of people being subjected to torture and other forms of abuse in detention.

In addition, she said, Rohingya Muslims are denied basic services to health, education and jobs, and many have been stripped of their property and identity papers, essentially rendering them stateless.

Gilmore called on the Myanmar government to reverse this situation and to end the statelessness of the Rohingya. She said it is unlikely the refugees will return to their place of origin until their citizenship status is recognized.

Reaction in Myanmar

Myanmar’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Kyaw Moe Tun, says human rights awareness is promoted throughout his country. He called the U.N. report misleading, incomplete and full of unverified allegations that distort the truth.

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Displaced Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. Wikimedia Commons

The repatriation process must begin as soon as possible to resolve the humanitarian situation, he said, adding that Myanmar has been ready to receive people since January 2018, when his country and Bangladesh signed a repatriation agreement.

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Myanmar has presented Bangladesh with a list of more than 1,200 verified displaced persons who repeatedly expressed their desire to return, he said.

Earlier this year, Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the U.N. Security Council “not a single Rohingya has volunteered to return to Rakhine due to the absence of conducive environment there.” (VOA)