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.
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.
“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.
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)
The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there.
“To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of ‘Border Haat’ has been identified in four places — Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram,” Mizoram Commerce and Industries Minister R. Lalthangliana told IANS.
The Minister said, “The success of the “Border Haats” running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar ‘haats’ with Mynmar in Mizoram.”
Mizoram Commerce and Industries Department Director J. Hmingthanmawia said that the state government has sent the detailed proposals in this regard to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for its approval.
“Once we get the green signal from the MEA, we would seek funds from the Union Industries and Commerce Ministry,” Hmingthanmawia told IANS. He said that officials of the Mizoram government and Myanmar have recently conducted a joint survey and identified the locations to set up the “Border Haats”.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga in his Independence Day speech had said that the proposed “Border Haats” would become important trade points between India and Myanmar.
“Land Custom Station (LCS) at Zokhawthar, the lone trade route for Mizoram with South East Asian countries, is being proposed for upgradation. Construction of Trade Facilitation Centre at Tlabung has already been completed.”
“The Indian government has also proposed construction of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at four places at the border in Mizoram — Marpara, Tuipuibari, Silsuri and Nunsury. The construction of ICP at Kawrpuichhuah is also expected to commence shortly,” the Chief Minister added.
Mizoram has an unfenced international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been guarding the Bangladesh border and Assam Rifles personnel are posted on the border with Myanmar.
Experts and various studies suggest that if the “Border Haats” are set up, smuggling of drugs and other commodities would be checked to a large extent. Security expert Manas Paul said that large-scale smuggling of drugs from Myanmar via Mizoram and other neighbouring states has increased in the last few years.
“What is really worrisome is the fact that these synthetic drugs have got a domestic market inside the state, especially among the younger generation. Cross border legal activities including setting up of “Border Haats” could curb the smuggling of drugs and other contraband,” Paul, who has authored books on security and terrorism in the northeast, told IANS.
The CUTS International, a Jaipur based international NGO, with support from the World Bank, had conducted a study in 2016 to understand and examine the effect of “Border Haats” on poverty alleviation and other multiplier effects such as informal trade.
CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that trade will increase income, curb smuggling, and cross-border crimes will also go down.
“‘Border Haats’ have contributed to the border area development, roads have improved, trafficking of women has stopped, unemployment issues have been addressed,” said Chatterjee.
Currently four “Border Haats” are operational in Meghalaya and Tripura. The first “Border Haat” was started on July 23, 2011 at Kalaichar (India)-Kurigram (Bangladesh) in the West Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Three other “haats” followed in Meghalaya and Tripura.
The Union Industries and Commerce Ministry has been spending on an average Rs 3.5 crore to develop the infrastructure and necessary facilities for each “Border Haat” along the Bangladesh border. The Bangladesh government is not providing any funds for the purpose. (IANS)