Myanmar’s Rakhine Conflict Creates Food Shortages in Next-Door Chin State

Myanmar’s conflict with the Arakan Army in Rakhine state has caused severe food shortages in a small corner of adjacent Chin state, where residents of some 200 villages are trapped by roadblocks and mandatory coronavirus lockdowns, a humanitarian worker said Thursday. As many as 60,000 residents of remote villages of Paletwa township, a Rakhine-speaking area in southern Chin that borders Rakhine state, are cut off from the closest food markets in Paletwa town — blocked by the warring armies or locked down by local authorities amid a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mai Nan Wai, spokesperson for the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee for Chin IDPs (RRCCI). For the past 21 months, the rebel Arakan Army (AA) has fought government forces in northern Rakhine state and in Paletwa township — areas where it seeks to assert control to secure greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in their historic homeland along the Bay of Bengal near Bangladesh. The fighting has left nearly 300 civilians dead and displaced about 220,000 others. The road blockages and lockdowns have meant that villagers in Paletwa township have seen their supplies of rice dwindle over recent months. More than 200 of 400 villages in Paletwa township may be in desperate need of rice, Myanmar’s staple food, Mai Nan Wai said. “All villages close to Paletwa are trapped now,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service. She said residents of Tone Ma village contacted her group for rice supplies, while all communities close to Samee town and along the Kaladan River are also experiencing shortages. “They have been cut off from Paletwa,” she said. “The villages south of Samee are close to Kyauktaw in Rakhine state, but AA troops are active in that area, so we cannot send rice supplies there.” Many elderly people in the villages have chronic illnesses such as diabetes and  paralysis are facing a shortage of medicine because they cannot get to cities and the RRCCI cannot get to them, Mai Nan Wai said. The humanitarian group estimates that 26,000 to 60,000 displaced Chin civilians are now trapped in their villages, while more than 18,000 have left their homes and sought shelter in cities during the armed conflict. Money won’t help State officials are sending donations from the government, the public, and the RRCCI directly to villages so residents can buy food themselves, Chin state Municipal Minister Soe Htet told RFA on Sept. 19, though he indicated that this alone would not alleviate severe food shortages. Some civil society organizations are also working with state officials and donating money, while the UN World Food Programme is trying to help civilians living in displacement camps, he said. “But it is very challenging for people who live outside the IDP camps,” Soe Htet said, referring to those still in villages. “We need the help of the Union government and the military to get things done.” Villagers said the money would be of no use since they cannot go anywhere to buy food, but that the need for rice supplies was urgent. Taung Min, a resident of Paletwa’s Kaytha village, said people are afraid of being shot if they leave their homes to travel to buy food. “All the roads are closed,” he told RFA. “For now, we are just eating what we have. The food supplies are running low. We can’t travel down south. If we do, they will shoot us. We cannot buy food anywhere. All the gates are closed now.” Before the roads were closed off, Taung Min paid as much as 65,000 kyats (U.S. $49) per bag of low quality rice, he said. A pastor from Paletwa township who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety said conditions there are growing worse, and aid workers can now safely reach only 30 villages. “Even in Paletwa town, a bag of rice costs more than 65,000 kyats,” he said. “Now all the roads connected to town are closed.” One displaced resident, who also declined to provide his name, said that rice supplies would not be delivered to at least 100 villages in Paletwa township until October. A former Chin state minister wrote on his Facebook page that villagers who have tried to bring back rice from other areas have been robbed on their return trips and have not been able to enter Paletwa because of the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly 110,000 people live in Paletwa township, with more than 90,000 of them residing in 388 villages, and the remainder living in Paletwa town. Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translted by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Concern as Captured Myanmar Forces Shown in New Arakan Army Video

The rebel Arakan Army has released a video showing three Myanmar security officers captured in the war in Rakhine state appealing for talks to win their freedom, a move that has divided experts over whether displaying the captives violates international laws on prisoners of war. Some observers saw the video release as a way to inform family members that the captives are still alive that also could prompt negotiations on a prisoner exchange. Others said making the captured men talk violated their privacy — if not Geneva Convention rules on the questioning of war captives. The Arakan Army (AA) released a video on Sept. 19 in which the three POWs — a battalion commander, a captain, and a police captain — tell their family members not to worry about them and urge senior military commanders to secure their release via negotiations. The AA did not say when the interviews were recorded. Major Thet Naing Oo, an army officer captured during combat in Kyauktaw township’s Meewa village on March 10, says in the video that the AA has treated its captives well and not tortured them. He asks the Myanmar army to enter talks for their release and urges his family not to worry about him. “There are some comrades, including myself, who were detained for various reasons, while on duty,” he says. “Because we are all part of a national brotherhood, I’d like to appeal for our rescue by using the approach of negotiations between top leaders, without harming the civilians.” The AA has been engaged in hostilities with Myanmar forces since late 2018 as the rebels fight for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in what they consider to be its historic homeland on the Bay of Bengal coast. The war has killed nearly 300 civilians and injured more than 640 while displacing more than 220,000 civilians. Both the AA and Myanmar military have detained soldiers from each other’s forces during the armed conflict as well as civilians suspected of supporting or aiding the enemy. Another POW in the video, Captain Shane Htet Linn, also appealed for his release and said he had not surrendered to the AA. “I want to appeal to the military and other leaders not to label me as traitor and give up on me,” he says in the video. “I want them to have sympathy for me and take care of us.” He also expressed hope that he would see his elderly parents again and be able to take care of them. Police officer Kyi Soe, who has been held by the AA for nearly 11 months, said on the video that he was captured while on duty. “I want to appeal to [my superiors] not to abandon me, considering the fact that I have served in the position to which I was assigned,” he said. “I want to appeal to my superiors to find a way for my release.” Video prompts appeals AA soldiers detained Kyi Soe in late October 2019 near Yey Myat village in Buthidaung township as he was departing on a river ferry to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe to report for his assignment to a police border outpost. The AA has said that it is holding 17 members of the police force, including Kyi Soe, and more than 30 members of the Myanmar military, including Major Thet Naing Oo. The ethnic army said it has released 16 transportation department workers and two older Myanmar soldiers who were captured in January. The airing of the video, which was seen by 1.7 million people on social media as of Wednesday, prompted appeals from relatives of other detainees who were not shown in the video. Suang Thida, the mother of missing immigration officer Myo Swe Oo, said she hasn’t received news about her son — her only relative — and that the government stopped paying his salary after December, when he was snatched by the AA with two coworkers from a boat on the Mayu River in Buthidaung township. “I want to appeal to the AA to release my son on humanitarian grounds,” said the woman, who lives in Hsi Hseng Town in Shan state, after contacting RFA hoping to get information about Myo Swe Oo. Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun would not confirm whether the men in the video were government soldiers, but he said that that the military has not abandoned detainees held by the AA. “With regards to the detained soldiers and government employees, I want to say to their family members that we are constantly working on military operations to get the latest information on them and secure their release,” he said. But he added that the military would not negotiate with the AA because of its status as a terrorist group — a label the government applied in March. RFA could not independently confirm the identities and ranks of the men in the video or determine whether their comments were recorded under duress. The AA said it respected the privacy rights and safety of the POWs and that it released the video to inform their families that the men are alive and healthy. AA spokesman Khine Thukha said all captives held by the rebel army are in good health and will be released if the Myanmar military frees AA soldiers that it is detaining. An Arakan Army soldier participates in a drill at an undisclosed location in an undated photo. Credit: RFA Opportunity for negotiations? Ann Thar Gyi, chairman of the local civil society organization Thingaha Kanlat Rakhita Aid Association, called on the AA to negotiate with Myanmar forces for the release of all soldiers, policemen, and immigration officers. “We’d like to see them returned to their family members,” he told RFA. Min Lwin Oo, an attorney who used to work with the Asia Human Rights Commission, said he believes the AA issued the video to in an effort to spark negotiations with the Myamar military. “I think they know they should not broadcast such videos on social media, but the chances for negotiations between the two armed forces are null,” he told RFA. “That’s why they have issued the video — to initiate an opportunity for negotiations,” he added. “They intend to create a situation where the United Nations or International Committee of the Red Cross will intervene and serve as a third party for negotiations.” On Wednesday, local rights experts and veteran journalists raised questions over whether the AA’s release of a video of POWs violated the Geneva Convention, a series of international laws governing the treatment of wounded or captive military personnel during armed conflict. Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, a human rights education group based in Yangon, pointed out that Article 17 of the Geneva Convention, which pertains to the questioning of war captives, says POWs are only bound to give their surnames when questioned. “Nothing else can be asked,” he said. “Now, we have seen the interrogations on additional information from the POWs. This constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention agreement.” Revealing the personal information of POWs could result in risks for their family members, coercing them into taking certain actions, even if the detained soldiers are safe, he said. Protect the POWs But former Myanmar information minister Ye Htut disagreed, arguing that international law does not prevent the release of video recordings of POWs in civil wars. He said he had seen similar recordings during armed conflicts in other countries. “With regard to detained civilians captured in domestic armed conflicts, the Geneva Convention agreements required the armed forces not to violate their human rights,” he said. “There are no rules preventing the broadcast of interviews of detained persons.” Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, concurred with Ye Htut. “I don’t think it violates anything ethically,” he said. Rights activist Nickey Diamond from Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights said the issue is disputable given the stated intention of was to inform others about the well-being of the war captives, though the AA should have adhered to certain ethical principles. “For the sake of their security and privacy, the faces of the POWs in the video should have been blurred,” he said. “It is good that the family members of these POWs got to learn that their loved ones are still alive, but whether it is appropriate or not under the international law still needs to be debated,” Diamond said. Earlier this month, Fortify Rights obtained an AA video with the recorded confessions of two Myanmar privates who admitted to taking part in a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state in 2017 that included torture, mass rape, indiscriminate killings, and arson. The soldiers had deserted the government army and contacted the AA for assistance. They later showed up on the Bangladesh border and asked authorities for help, but were turned over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands. The ICC, which tries individuals, in November authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated by Myanmar soldiers against the Rohingya. RFA did not see the video interviews and could not independently verify the soldiers’ accounts. Reported and translated by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Myanmar’s Heavyweight Ethnic Armies Boost Training as Peace Talks Languish

Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic armed groups, which remain outside national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s slow-moving peace talks, have set up full-blown military service academies in their territories, with some training cadets from other rebel militias to face a common foe, the government military. The ethnic armies describe the academies as a way to professionalize their ranks and boost their bargaining positions in any future peace talks with the government. But the Myanmar military says the academies run by rebel armies infringe on national sovereignty. In a country that’s been at war since its independence in 1948, the ranks of ethnic armies in Myanmar total more than one-fifth of the 400,000-strong national military. On Sept. 11, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar most powerful ethnic army with 30,000 regular fighters, opened a four-year military service academy in far eastern Shan state on the border with China’s Yunnan province. The new military school in Roung Tain village of Pangsang (Pangkham) town opened with an initial cohort of 100 cadets, a UWSA spokesman told RFA on Thursday. “This is the first military academy school in our Wa state,” said Nyi Rang, the communications officer at the UWSA’s liaison office in Lashio. The school was set up to teach skills to future military leaders, he said. “The goal for opening this school is to advance the technologies and skills of our troops to keep abreast of the changing trends,” the spokesman said, adding that the specific curriculum is classified. Shan, Myanmar’s largest state and home to the country’s second-largest ethnic group, has been under armed conflict between government forces and numerous ethnic-based armies fighting for autonomy since 1958, 10 years after the former Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948. Formed from members of the former Communist Party of Burma following the group’s disbandment in 1989, the UWSA has 10,000 auxiliary members in addition to its regular force and maintains close relations with China. Myanmar’s constitution’s grants the roughly 500,000 Wa the right to administer what is known as Special Region 2, comprising the six townships of Hopang, Mongmao, Pangwaun, Matman, Namphan, and Pangsang in northern and eastern Shan state. Although the UWSA has not fought against government forces for decades, its military strength, boosted by Chinese arms, makes it the most powerful force behind a cluster of ethnic armies that have resisted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s peace negations aimed at ending the country’s multiple wars and building a democratic federal union of the multiethnic nation of 54 million. United Wa State Army soldiers march during a military parade commemorating 30 years of a bilateral cease-fire signed with the Myanmar military, in the town of Pangsang in Myanmar's Wa self-administered region, April 17, 2019. Credit: RFA Four rounds of talks Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has held four rounds of talks with about half of the country’s ethnic armies, mostly the smaller groups, without major breakthroughs. The last round before Nov. 8 national elections was held in August and produced acceptance in principle by Myanmar’s powerful military of the concept of federalism after decades of resistance to the idea. But the agreement was thin on concrete achievements and remained stuck on a key military demand — that the UWSA and its allies who have so far refused to sign Myanmar’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) must lay down their arms and enter the cease-fire pact. The NCA has been signed by 10 ethnic armed organizations since October 2015. The UWSA is one of seven non-signatory groups that comprise the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), an alliance of some of the largest of rebel armies that have been at war with the central government for decades and have resisted signing the NCA because they want to keep their armies. The FPNCC has proposed a confederate system in Myanmar that allows ethnic organizations to maintain their own armed forces — a move that the Myanmar military strongly opposes. When asked about the UWSA’s academy, a Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said that a sovereign nation can have only one military institution, repeating the armed forces’ long-held stance in peace negotiations that there should only be a single national military to defend and protect the state. “With regards to that issue, there is one and only one military force in every sovereign country that was created for safeguarding and defending the state,” he said. Zaw Min Tun also called on stakeholders involved in Myanmar’s peace process to work towards securing a lasting cessation of hostilities through the NCA. The Myanmar military has said that it is trying to tolerate the UWSA after the ethnic army showed off its forces in an April 2019 ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of its founding. At that time, Zhao Guo-ann, the UWSA’s vice chairman and external affairs officer, spoke of an expanded ethnic force at a news conference in Pangsang. “We understand having one military institution under a sovereign nation, but with the current situation we are building up the UWSA’s military power in order to secure the political guarantee for the Wa people,” he said. “Building up military power is just for the defense of the Wa people and not to rebel against the government,” he added, but cautioned that “everyone becomes a soldier if there is a military provocation or invasion.” Ta'ang National Liberation Army soldiers march during a military parade commemorating the ethnic army's Revolution Day in Kyaukme township, Myanmar's northern Shan state, Jan. 14, 2016. Credit: RFA Allied training efforts Political activist and writer Than Soe Naing said the UWSA’s new military academy was not intended to expand its forces, but rather to restructure them. “Wa’s troops had been transformed from former Burmese Communist Party forces, so they didn’t have rankings like lieutenant or major,” he told RFA. “They have had only commanding officers for squadrons, [but] now they have established new rankings.” Meanwhile the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), another NCA non-signatory, held a graduation ceremony on July 23 for the first group of students from its military training school in northern Shan state. More than 50 of the 70 cadets attending the academy graduated, said TNLA spokesman Mei Eik Kyaw. “We sometimes request legal, military and political experts from our allied groups,” he said about the training facility. “We have our own coursework as well as lectures by outside groups.” The TNLA also sometimes sends students to study at the military service academy run by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), he added. The TNLA along with the KIA, Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), also known as the Kokang Army, form the Northern Alliance, a sub-grouping of ethnic militaries that have not signed the NCA. Earlier this year, the AA, which is fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in their western coastal state, was declared an illegal association and terrorist organization by the Myanmar government. Mei Eik Kyaw pointed out that the AA started out with only 26 privates in 2009, but now has more than 7,000 soldiers, some of whom initially trained at the KIA’s facility. In 2010, the AA began instructing soldiers at its own training school in Laiza, and have turned out 50 co-ed cohorts with approximately 500 cadets in each unit, he said. AA spokesperson Khine Thukha declined to provide information about the training program when contacted by RFA, saying it was classified. Ta’ang National Liberation army officers join a traditional line dance with civilians during a celebration marking the ethnic army's insurrection more than a half-century ago, in Mar-Wong village, Myanmar's northern Shan state, Jan. 12, 2015. Credit: Associated Press Raising their game The Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), whose political wing, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), is an NCA signatory, also operates a cadet training center. NMSP spokesman Naing Aung Ma Ngay said having a military academy gives ethnic armies a leg up when negotiating with Myanmar forces for a peace deal. Ethnic armies “plant the seeds of military discipline in training schools, though they need to be careful not to overemphasize their military strength,” he told RFA. The KIA, which was formed in 1961, has operated a military academy at its headquarters in Lashio, northern Shan state, since 2000 and has provided training to soldiers from other ethnic armies. In late 2014, the academy was attacked with heavy artillery, killing 23 students from various ethnic groups who were undergoing military training. KIA spokesman Colonel Naw Bu said the facility accepts college graduates and young people who have completed high school as a minimum qualification. “We also accept girls as students. We accept young people with a revolutionary spirit,” he said. Cohorts of 50-60 students take three years to complete the KIA’s basic military training program, which consists in part of physical exercises, military-related procedures, and light weaponry training, he said. “We previously trained the privates from other ethnic armed groups, but now there are almost no students from other groups,” Naw Bu said. The All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF), founded in 1988 by former student exiles, also has military training facilities and other instructional programs. The ethnic army is a signatory of the NCA. “We have joint training programs with allied groups,” said ABSDF spokesman Private Myo Win said. “We also have separate trainings.” The selection criteria for students are based on their education level and experience similar to that of other ethnic armies, he said without elaborating. The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS-SSA), an NCA signatory group in northern Shan state that has engaged in sporadic clashes with Myanmar forces this year despite the cease-fire, does not have its own military service academy, but offers basic military skills training, said spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ohm Khay. “We don’t have any requirements for students who want to complete the training,” he said. “We provide training to [those] who have never had basic military training.” Former Burmese Communist Party member Maung Maung Soe, who is now an analyst of ethnic and military affairs, said it is necessary for the ethnic armies to have training academies. “If you are operating an armed group, you need to have basic military training usually up to the officer level,” he said. “As long as the government cannot resolve the ethnic armed groups issue, these forces will continue their recruitment and training,” he added. Reported by Aung Theinkha and Nay Myo Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Myanmar’s Rakhine War Produces Grim Child Casualty Toll

The intensifying war in Rakhine state between Myanmar government troops and rebel Arakan Army soldiers, often fought in populated civilian areas, is killing and maiming increasing numbers of children, international and domestic NGOs say. A recent rise in child casualties in northern Rakhine state comes as U.N. observers note an increased use of airstrikes and heavy artillery attacks on civilian communities by the Myanmar military in its 21-month-old conflict with the Arakan Army (AA), which says it fights for autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people who live in the coastal region. Forty-two children under the age of 18 have died and 135 have been injured since December 2018 by artillery shelling, gunshots, and landmine explosions, according to groups that advocate for children. They are among nearly 300 civilians killed, and more than 640 injured in northern Rakhine state and in Paletwa township of next-door Chin state, according to an RFA tally. In a conflict exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that has resurged in Rakhine, some 200,000 civilians have fled their homes to escape fighting and now live in official or makeshift displacement camps or in the homes of relatives, according to an estimate by the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local NGO. On Monday, as the U.N.’s human rights chief issued a report in Geneva warning that the army’s actions in Rakhine could constitute war crimes, two teenagers were seriously injured by mortar shells that fell onto their village amid what witnesses said was an exchange of artillery fire by a Myanmar Navy vessel in the Mayu River and AA soldiers on land. Residents of Rathedaung township’s U Gar village said Myanmar soldiers on the boat and troops in Rathedaung town fired artillery for more than an hour. AA spokesman Khine Thukha said his army’s troops did not engage in combat with Myanmar forces along the Mayu River that day, and accused two navy vessels of intentionally firing artillery at the civilian villages. A Myanmar military spokesman, however, said the troops were responding to 107-millimeter rockets and rocket-propelled grenades fired at the navy boat by the AAin a clash that lasted 30 minutes. “Regarding the civilians who got injured, you can’t say it for sure it was caused by the military’s artillery. You can’t assume the military is responsible whenever there are artillery blasts,” he said. A child injured by mortar shell explosions in western Myanmar's war-ravaged Rakhine state arrives at a hospital in Sittwe, Oct. 3, 2019. Credit: RFA Civilians ‘directly targeted’ The report on Myanmar presented Monday by Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, based on interviews with more than 80 victims and witnesses whose accounts were verified, said that it was frequently the case that villages were attacked by the army without any AA provocation or presence. “Tatmadaw tactics have shifted, with periodic reliance on airpower against the Arakan Army, but in some instances it appears that civilians may have been directly targeted,” the report said, using the Burmese name for the military, Myanmar’s most powerful institution. The report went on to say that there had been a significant increase in the number of airstrikes by fighter jets, helicopter and heavy artillery attacks, and ground battles in more densely populated civilian areas. “For the most part, however, it appears that the Arakan Army was not active or present in the areas where these attacks took place and no armed clashes were reported to have been ongoing at that time,” the report said. Hardly a week goes by without reports of new Rakhine child casualties in conflict-affected areas. On Sept. 11, a six-year-old boy was transferred from a regional hospital to Sittwe General Hospital’s emergency room after sustaining serious injuries from an artillery blast in Rathedaung’s Aung Si Kone village. Cho Cho, the boy’s mother, told RFA that the child was injured while the family was hiding in a bomb shelter under their house as a military boat patrolling the Mayu River approached their village and passed. They waited until the boat was far from the village and then left the bomb shelter though they were still under the house, she said. “At that time, we heard the blast,” Cho Cho said. “It shattered a ceramic pot, house fences, and a door. Artillery fragments from the blast came under the house [and] penetrated the child’s left shoulder to the bone.” Myanmar woman and children who fled armed conflict in Rathedaung township, northern Rakhine state, find temporary shelter in Rakhine's capital Sittwwe, July 1, 2020. Credit: RFA Bomb shelters On Sept. 8, four civilians, including two five-year-olds, were killed, and a child was among several others injured by artillery blasts in Nyaung Khat Kan village in Rakhine’s Myebon township, drawing condemnation from UNICEF. “Children should never be targeted during armed conflicts,” said UNICEF in a statement issued the following day. “They are being killed in crossfire between parties to the conflict or even deliberately shot. They are being killed and maimed by landmines and explosive remnants of war in different parts of the country,” the U.N. agency said, referring to other conflicts in Myanmar, a multiethnic country of 54 million people. Adults have become inured to exchanges of artillery fire between AA troops and military vessels patrolling the rivers of Rakhine state. Everyone hides in bomb shelters as a precaution whenever Myanmar navy vessels are on the river, villagers said. Life during conflict is stressful for children, experts said. “Children in Rakhine state are insecure, both physically and mentally,” said Oo Khin Thein from Sittwe-based Arakan Youth New Generation Network, referring to minors in “dire conditions” in both internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and in towns and villages. “I found children in towns and villages in conflict areas who were physically injured by the armed conflict,” she said. “They are also emotionally impacted by trauma and fear of getting injured in artillery blasts. We see more and more children living in fear. ” Intensifying hostilities mean that nowhere in northern Rakhine is safe for anyone, said Oo Tun Win, a lawmaker from Kyauktaw township “Many people have been killed by artillery blasts while they are at home,” he told RFA. “They also have been killed by stray bullets as they fled from the blasts. People have been killed in their sleep. So, Rakhine society as a whole is not safe anywhere, not to mention the safety of the children.” Myanmar children who fled fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels in northern Rakhine state find temporary shelter at the Mittaparami Buddhist Monastery in Rakhine's capital Sittwe, April 11, 2020. Credit: RFA ‘Senseless’ shelling of a school Myanmar forces also have detained a few minors on suspicion of having connections to the AA and charged them under the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law, said Myo Myat Hein, the director of the Thazin Legal Aid Group in Sittwe. “In these cases, the accused children have not been given their rights under the Child Rights Law, [which] guarantees detainees immediate access to legal representations though this is often not the case,” he said. “In many cases, the lawyers meet the detained children only when they are brought to trial.” Those held in custody are sometimes subject to torture by authorities or disappear after their detentions, their family members have reported, according to Myo Myat Hein, who is also known as Nyein Chan. The annual report by the U.N.’s human right chief noted that schools, religious sites, and civilian homes in Rakhine have been targeted in attacks and damaged by heavy artillery and by Myanmar military patrols. In February, at least 17 schoolchildren ranging in age from five to 12 were wounded when a mortar shell hit their primary school in Khamwe Chaung village in Buthidaung township, the report said. The following month, soldiers set houses and a school ablaze and destroyed a local monastery with a rocket-propelled grenade in Minbya township’s Pha Bro village, it noted. Save the Children called the injuries “senseless” and pointed out that they occurred on the same day that the U.N. expressed concern over the continuing humanitarian impact of conflict in western Myanmar and urged parties to respect international humanitarian law and to protect civilians. “Many children are among these victims, and the actual number of casualties is likely to be higher due to limited monitoring and reporting in the conflict-affected areas,” the statement by Save the Children said. UNICEF said the children of Rakhine face long-term repercussions because “their education is being hampered by attacks against schools and the use of schools by parties to the conflict.” Myanmar has ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that “governments must do everything they can to protect and care for children affected by war and armed conflicts.” In 2019, the country also ratified the Optional Protocol on Children and Armed Conflict, whereby states agree to protect children from military recruitment and use in hostilities. Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Myanmar Denies Destroying Rohingya Expulsion Evidence From 2017

Myanmar on Tuesday rejected concerns raised by the top U.N. human rights official about recent government actions in Rakhine state, saying there had been no effort to destroy evidence of the military campaign that drove 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh in 2017. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday that Myanmar had made little progress in investigating and achieving accountability for the “terrible human rights crisis” created three years ago by military operations in Rakhine. “The situation of many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced people remains unresolved,” she said. Bachelet had presented a report to the Council that detailed “conduct which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Bachelet pointed out reports that government administrators have reclassified areas in Rakhine state where Rohingyas once lived, removing the village names from maps — raising concern that evidence from the 2017 military operations is being destroyed. “This should end immediately, and the prior situation should be restored,” she said, warning that the policy “could prevent Rohingyas from returning to their homes.” “I am also concerned that they risk destroying evidence relevant to determining legal responsibility for acts committed during military operations both before and after 2017,” said Bachelet. Chan Aye, director general of the International Organizations and Economic Department at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rejected the allegations Tuesday. “Even if there have been crimes committed, those who changed the village names and built new structures did not do it intentionally as they have been accused of doing,” he said. “They didn’t intend to destroy the evidence and prevent them [the Rohingya] from returning.” The report Bachelet presented to the Council on Monday cast doubt about Myanmar’s pledges to hold military personnel accountable for their actions in Rakhine, noting that there has been little movement beyond the sentencing of a few soldiers and officers found guilty of atrocities during courts-martial. While a U.N.-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar found signs of genocidal intent in the 2017 mass expulsions, Myanmar’s domestic Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) said that war crimes and serious human rights violations had occurred in Rakhine but did not have genocidal intent. “The available findings of the national commission either deny or reject responsibility, calling into question both the willingness of authorities to ensure genuine accountability and the independence of the national commission,” the latest UN report said. Military tribunal Following the announcement of a court-martial for some 2017 killings in Rakhine, Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said Monday that investigations are being conducted in line with recommendations from the ICOE report, produced by the panel the Myanmar government set up in 2017. “We are now releasing this statement to announce which organization is doing what kinds of investigations following our announcement in July,” he said. “I cannot give any details on how far the investigation has progressed,” he added. “We are trying to hold a trial before a military tribunal before the end of 2020.” The military issued a statement in the military-run Myawady Daily newspaper on Monday that the findings of a court of inquiry it set up in July will result in a court-martial, expected to be begin before the end of the year. A court headed by led by Major General Myat Kyaw examined alleged violations against the Rohingya in Chut Pyin and Maung Nu villages in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township during the crackdown in 2017. The ICOE’s report issued in January cited killings that had taken place in the two villages, where about 300 civilians are believed to have died at the hands of soldiers during “clearance operations.” The Office of the Judge Advocate General now will investigate “possible wider patterns of violations” in northern Rakhine in 2016-2017 based on the findings in the ICOE’s report, the statement in Myawady Daily said. Allegations regarding Taung Bazar village in neighboring Buthidaung township are included in the scope of the Maung Nu investigation, it said The military expects to hold the court-martial before the end of the year. Two Myanmar Army deserters confessed to killing Rohingya women, men, and children, and committing rape in Taung Bazar village and surrounding communities in September 2017, according to a statement issued by Fortify Rights last week. The two soldiers’ confessions had been recorded by the rebel Arakan Army and obtained by Fortify Rights. ‘No one will say anything’ Maungdaw township residents said no one has been summoned for questioning by the military yet, but if they are, it would be difficult for them to testify about what happened in the communities. “Even if they asked the civilians here to come for interrogations, no one would dare say anything against the government. They all fear it,” said one local who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety. “No one will say anything that will upset the government,” he added. Other residents indicated that they would feel comfortable speaking freely only if an independent investigative commission led by international organizations probed the allegations. “The investigations need to gain the trust of the people and credibility from the international community,” said Nickey Diamond, an activist with Fortify Rights. “If the military is conducting the investigation exclusively, it will not have international credibility,” he said. “It needs to work with independent human rights groups and domestic and international media to gain credibility.” Nandar Hla Myint, a spokesman for the opposition Union Solidarity and Development (USDP) said the government is handling the Rohingya issue the wrong way and that it should not bow to international pressure. “We need to tell the truth to the world about what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “We have to tell them firmly. We should not be weak on an issue like this.” Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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