UN expert sounds alarm at escalating conflict in Myanmar, calls for civilian protection

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UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 (APP):The UN’s human rights expert on Myanmar expressed alarm at the escalating violence in the country’s
northern and central Rakhine State and Chin State, and called on all sides to exercise restraints in using
force and to ensure protection of civilians.
Since November 2018, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, and Arakan Army (AA), an
ethnic armed organization, have been engaged in heavy fighting, resulting in deaths and injuries
to civilians.
At least 5,000 people have been displaced from their homes.
“Both sides must take precautions and ensure the protection of civilians,” Yanghee Lee, the UN
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement.
She condemned an attack by the AA on the four Border Guard Police posts on January 4, and expressed concern at the Tatmadaw’s disproportionate response to the attack. “It is unacceptable for the Tatmadaw
and the Arakan Army to conduct hostilities in a manner that impact civilians,” Lee said.
Following the January 4 AA attack, the Tatmadaw deployed a large number of troops to the region.
Reports say heavy weapons and artillery, as well as helicopters, have been used in civilian areas,
leading to civilian deaths and injuries, according to reports.
“What is happening in Rakhine reminds me of the tactics used by the Tatmadaw against ethnic
populations for decades,” the Special Rapporteur said. “All the people of Rakhine State, including the
Rakhine, Mro, Daignet, Hindu and Rohingya, have suffered enough.”
On 10 January, the Rakhine State government sent a letter to the UN and international humanitarian
agencies instructing them all, with the exception of the World Food Programme and the International
Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend their activities in the five townships in northern Rakhine
that are affected by the conflict, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw.
“It is vital that assistance is able to reach those who have fled violence, and the Government must
immediately reverse its decision not to allow access to all humanitarian organizations,” Lee said. “I
remind the Government and the Tatmadaw that blocking humanitarian access is a serious violation
of international humanitarian law.”
She said even before the Government’s recent order, access to the region for humanitarian organizations
was limited, and even less so for media and independent monitors. “I call on the Government to allow
full and unfettered access to the region to allow a free flow of information in the interest of the public,”
Lee said.
“I am also seriously concerned about the dangerous rhetoric being used by the Government. The
ethnic Rakhine population must not be demonized and targeted by the military on suspicion of association
with the AA.
Equally, this conflict must not be used by the Tatmadaw as a means to further its ongoing
campaign of violence against the Rohingya population remaining in Rakhine state.”
So far, 15 people have been arrested, apparently on suspicion of links to the AA, including seven
young people who were detained for bringing supplies to displaced people at a monastery. Reports say
two of the 15 people remain in detention, including a village administrator, and that they have been
charged under the Unlawful Associations Act.
“This conflict risks exacerbating divisions among communities in an already fractured state,
further complicating the complex situation that exists in the country,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“The Government should prioritize the safety and well-being of all the people of
Rakhine State and work towards peace around Myanmar.”