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SITREP: Rakhine State


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Two Rohingya women killed as Myanmar army shells village: MP

Published: 25 Jan 2020 02:31 PM BdST Updated: 25 Jan 2020 02:31 PM BdST

Two women, one pregnant, were killed and seven other people injured after Myanmar troops shelled a Rohingya village on Saturday, according to a lawmaker and a villager, two days after the UN’s highest court ordered the country to protect the minority.

Maung Kyaw Zan, a national member of parliament for Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state, said shells fired from a nearby battalion hit Kin Taung village in the middle of the night. Government troops have been battling ethnic rebels in the state for more than a year.

"There was no fighting, they just shot artillery to a village without a battle," he told Reuters by phone, adding it was the second time this year that civilians had been killed.

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee northern Rakhine state in 2017 after a military crackdown that the UN has said was executed with genocidal intent.

More recently, the region was plunged into further chaos by fresh fighting between the military and the Arakan Army, a rebel group that recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority in the state. That conflict has displaced tens of thousands and killed dozens.

Of the several hundred thousand Rohingya still in Rakhine, many are confined to apartheid-like conditions, unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education. They are caught in the middle of the fighting, and travel restrictions mean they are less able to flee than Buddhist neighbours.

In early January, four Rohingya children died in a blast the military and rebels blamed on each other.

Two military spokesmen did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on Saturday's deaths.

Soe Tun Oo, a Rohingya villager living a mile from the village, told Reuters by phone two houses were destroyed in the explosion.

"The military always shoots heavy weapons… They shoot heavy weapons around the area they suspect. It is impossible to flee to other places, even though we are scared."

The Hague-based International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar on Thursday to protect the Rohingya against further atrocities and preserve evidence of alleged crimes, after west African nation the Gambia launched a lawsuit in November accusing the country of genocide.

A spokesman for the ruling party told Reuters the country was already protecting Rohingya, but the civilian government had limited power over the military.

Civilian authorities govern jointly with the military in an awkward constitutional arrangement that reserves great powers for the commander-in-chief.

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The situation for these people is very bad, I have been to the Cox Bazaar camp.... the authorities are doing all they can but I don't think our country can host and provide for them in the long run. I hope the International Community do their part and resolve this issue. Once they're repatriated I think Bangladesh govt should look out for them, so that in future they dont face any issues and result in another crisis.

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The only sustainable way forward from hereon is an international peacekeeping force in Rakhine state. Unfortunatly the UN became a toothless organisation because major powers like China and Russia decided to take the side of war criminals.

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3 hours ago, TigerShark said:

The only sustainable way forward from hereon is an international peacekeeping force in Rakhine state. Unfortunatly the UN became a toothless organisation because major powers like China and Russia decided to take the side of war criminals.

Some US congressman was suggesting Bangladesh take hold of Rakhine state. Don't know what he was smoking.

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19 minutes ago, Salted Cola said:

Some US congressman was suggesting Bangladesh take hold of Rakhine state. Don't know what he was smoking.

He was merely outlining America's grand vision. Bangladesh will end up like another collateral nation (Pakistan) if this is realised.

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On 1/26/2020 at 5:44 AM, TigerShark said:

The only sustainable way forward from hereon is an international peacekeeping force in Rakhine state. Unfortunatly the UN became a toothless organisation because major powers like China and Russia decided to take the side of war criminals.

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Article 94

1. Each Member of the United Nations undertakes to comply with the decision of the International Court of Justice in any case to which it is a party.

2. If any party to a case fails to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court, the other party may have recourse to the Security Council, which may, if it deems necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment.

 

So if anybody does not comply with any ICJ ruling then the issue is elevated to the Security Council for enforcement. And so the issue is, it depends on the interest of the P5 countries as you said, therefore neither UN nor ICJ actually has any authority or action over the situation unless it interests the P5 states

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3 hours ago, Xuhayr said:

So if anybody does not comply with any ICJ ruling then the issue is elevated to the Security Council for enforcement. And so the issue is, it depends on the interest of the P5 countries as you said, therefore neither UN nor ICJ actually has any authority or action over the situation unless it interests the P5 states

Nothing will come out of it, Russia and China will veto any resolution brought to the floor at the security council.

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Myanmar army clash with insurgents kills 5 Rohingya

Reuters
Published at 05:44 pm March 1st, 2020

Myanmar army artillery shells hit the village of Bu Ta Lone, killing four people, the Arakan Army spokesman said in a message

At least five ethnic Rohingya were killed and several injured after troops clashed with insurgents in Myanmar's conflict-torn western state of Rakhine, a lawmaker and two residents said on Sunday.

Saturday's fighting broke out after Arakan Army rebels attacked a military convoy passing the historic temple town of Mrauk U, the regional MP, Tun Thar Sein, and a spokesman for the armed group, Khine Thu Kha, said.

Two military spokesmen did not answer telephone calls from Reuters to seek comment, and the army did not immediately issue a statement on its website.

Khine Thu Kha, the Arakan Army spokesman, blamed government troops for the civilian casualties.

A government spokesman said he could not comment.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the details of the attack in the remote area, where journalists are barred and internet access curtailed.

Myanmar army artillery shells hit the village of Bu Ta Lone, killing four people, the Arakan Army spokesman said in a message.

The MP, a health worker who treated the injured, and a villager said at least five Rohingya, members of a persecuted Muslim minority, had died.

There were conflicting accounts of the number of Rohingya injured, which ranged from six to 11, along with several members of the state's Rakhine ethnic majority.

Rakhine is the state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee for neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the UN has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies committing genocide.

Several hundred thousand Rohingya remain in Myanmar, many confined to camps and villages where they are caught in the middle of fresh fighting between the military and Arakan Army, which recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority in a drive for greater autonomy from the central government.

That conflict has displaced tens of thousands and killed dozens.

Tun Thar Sein, the Mrauk U MP, said troops responded with gunfire and shelling in two villages on Saturday after rebels attacked their convoy.

"In response to that, the military started firing at suspicious locations," he said.

A local health worker, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said three of the Rakhine ethnic majority were also injured and one woman had died of cardiac arrest.

Trapped by fighting

Journalists are blocked from travelling to most of central and northern Rakhine, now in the eighth month of a mobile internet shutdown the government justifies on grounds of security.

Many of the several hundred thousand Rohingya still in Rakhine are confined to apartheid-like conditions, unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education.

"Five Muslims died as their bodies were found," a Rohingya villager from the area told Reuters on Sunday, asking not to be named for fear of retribution. "Their funeral was held today."

He said the bodies had bullet wounds.

"We can't go out and we can't go anywhere," he added. "We are just staying safe in our village. If this keeps happening, I feel like there is no hope."

Saturday's attack was one of several to kill Rohingya this year.

In early January, four Rohingya children died in a blast the military and rebels blamed on each other.

Weeks later, two women were killed after shells hit a village in Buthidaung township, two days after the world court ordered Myanmar to protect the minority.

At the time, the military blamed the Arakan Army for those deaths, saying it would not have carried out an attack just after a world court verdict in a genocide lawsuit brought by Gambia in November against Myanmar.

In January, the International Court of Justice at the Hague had ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya against further atrocities and preserve evidence of alleged crimes.

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Myanmar army sues Reuters for criminal defamation: police

  >>  Reuters

Published: 09 Mar 2020 10:51 PM BdST Updated: 09 Mar 2020 10:51 PM BdST

Myanmar police said the army had filed a lawsuit against Reuters news agency and a local lawmaker for criminal defamation, weeks after the military objected to a news story published about the death of two Rohingya Muslim women as a result of shelling in Rakhine state.

After publication, the army said its artillery fire had not killed the women or caused other civilian injuries and blamed insurgents of the Arakan Army (AA), who are fighting for greater autonomy in Rakhine state. The AA denied responsibility and accused the army. Reporters are banned from the area where the incident happened.

Police Lieutenant Kyaw Thu, the acting station head in Buthidaung township, in the north of Rakhine state, told Reuters both the news agency and the lawmaker were being sued under section 66D of the Telecommunications Act.

The section, which has been used to jail government critics in the Southeast Asian country, outlaws online defamation and carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

Kyaw Thu said that police had not yet contacted Reuters about the case and would seek to do so.

“We are trying to make an approach in so far as we can, to find out where Reuters news agency is, what kind of organization it is and the reporter and the editor,” he told a Reuters reporter on Sunday before putting down the phone.

He said that police had requested permission from the speaker of Myanmar’s national parliament with regards to proceeding with the case against lawmaker Maung Kyaw Zan, who represents Buthidaung.

The case follows an army complaint about a story published by Reuters on Jan. 25 in which the lawmaker was quoted as saying that the army’s artillery fire had caused the deaths of the two Rohingya women.

The army held a news conference on Feb. 4 to complain about the story, after which Reuters updated the story to reflect the army’s position.

The army subsequently filed a complaint objecting to the Reuters story to the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), which adjudicates disputes between authorities and news media.

“Reuters stands by the reporting that is of concern to the military and is the subject of an ongoing discussion with Myanmar’s Press Council,” a Reuters spokesperson said.

“We do not believe there is any basis for a criminal action against Reuters or our journalists under Myanmar law. We have not seen any criminal complaint against Reuters, and so cannot comment further at this time.”

The member of parliament said that it was unfair to bring a lawsuit against him.

“As a representative of the people, I listened to what the people told me and I spoke about it,” he told Reuters by phone. “I will just have to face the lawsuit and receive the judgment from the court.”

Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for the military, confirmed the complaint against the lawmaker but said he did not know about the lawsuit against Reuters. 

Rakhine state is the western region from which more than 750,000 Rohingya fled in 2017 following a military crackdown.

Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice in the Hague over the crackdown. The army denies genocide, saying it was fighting a legitimate battle against Rohingya militants who attacked police stations.

Two Reuters reporters were released from a Myanmar jail last May after spending more than 18 months behind bars, accused of breaking the official secrets act in a case that sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.

Before their arrest in December 2017, they had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in Rakhine state.

 

https://bdnews24.com/world/2020/03/09/myanmar-army-sues-reuters-for-criminal-defamation-police

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India’s Rakhine dilemma

In a strange rush to complete and operationalize the $ 484 million Kaladan Multimodal project, India risk getting sucked into what essentially is Myanmar’s problem – tackling an invigorated insurgency in the country’s coastal province of Rakhine (previously Arakan).

Policy analysts familiar with Myanmar advise caution because the Arakan Army (AA), formed in 2009 in the northern state of Kachin, is no throwaway.

Myanmar watcher Bertil Lintner thinks the AA is a ‘new age rebel group’ unlike territory holding Kachins and Karen fighters and its calculated offensive against the Tatmadaw in both rural and urban areas has significantly weakened the state’s grip on the strategic Rakhine province, where both China and India have initiated major connectivity projects.

The Chinese have finished the Kyaukphyu deep sea port and is going ahead with a Special Economic Zone around it with rail-road and oil-gas pipelines linking it with Yunnan province.

The Indians have renovated the Sittwe port and is seeking to use it to connect to Mizoram province through Kaladan river.

The Myanmar military suspects the AA is trying to create a liberated zone with a strong base in Rakhine in keeping with its bid to free Rakhine of Burmese control.

But analysts say the Burmese army appears unable to curb the Arakan Army, which has 7000-8000 well armed fighters trained by the Kachins.

“The Arakan Army is pursuing a different kind of warfare, it is not trying to hold territory so far, it hits the Tatmadaw hard and then just vanishes, the Burmese troops have no answer to this highly mobile warfare,” says Bertil Lintner.

That the Arakan Army is no throwaway weighs heavy on Indian military planners – they want to back the Tatmadaw to regain control over the rebels in Rakhine so that the Kaladan project is completed and operational but they don’t want to get too deeply involved to avoid Arakan Army retaliation.

“We should stay away from the Rakhine muddle, surely we should not get involved militarily, much as the Myanmar army Tatmadaw wants us to,” says military analyst John Mukherjee.

Mukherjee, a retired lieutenant general and a former chief of staff of India’s eastern army, heads the Calcutta-based security affairs think tank CENERS-K, which counts former Army chief General Shankar Raychoudhuri and former Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha among its patrons and office-bearers.

“The project is important for India, especially for its remote Mizoram state, but it is not something for which we should get militarily involved in fighting the Arakan Army rebels,” Mukherjee told this writer recently.

After years of delay, India finally kicked off the construction of the 109-km road project that connects Paletwa river terminal to Zorinpui on the Mizoram border in Myanmar in 2018.

But work on this phase of the project has been tortuously slow, one reason being the Arakan Army’s constant disruptions by kidnap of workers involved with the road and bridge construction.

The Rs 1,600 crore road project that passes through dense forests and hilly areas was awarded to Delhi-based C&C Constructions in June 2017.

But the contractor had to wait till January 2018 for the requisite clearances from the Myanmar government to start ground work.

The company lobbied for strong military action and the Indian Army conducted Operation Sunrise last year to demolish the Arakan Army’s bases in southern Mizoram.

The Indian Army formally accepted in a press statement that the operation was necessary to tackle the Arakan Army which has ’emerged as a threat to the

On completion, the project will help connect Mizoram with the Sittwe Port in Rakhine State of Myanmar.

The project was undertaken as a sea-land access to Northeast when Bangladesh under then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was not playing ball.

But now with the Hasina government agreeing to multi-modal transit to north-eastern India through Bangladesh territory (road, rail, sea) the Kaladan project is not so important anymore, except for landlocked Mizoram state.

“It is not something which calls for military intervention,” says Myanmar watcher Binoda Mishra of the Centre for Studies in International Relations & Development (CSIRD).

“We should learn to balance, to hunt with the hound and swim with the crocodile,”says Mishra.

India has already completed the rest of the Kaladan project work in Myanmar.

This includes the construction of the Sittwe Port on Lakadan river mouth in Rakhine, construction of a river terminal 158 upstream at Paletwa and dredging of the Kaladan river.

On the Indian side, work is on to extend the Aizawl-Saiha National Highway by 90 km to the international border at Zorinpui.

Also, a Rs 6,000 crore project is underway for four-laning the 300-km highway from Myanmar border to Aizawl to ensure the faster movement of goods.

Completion of the Paletwa-Zorinpui road, therefore, holds the key to operationalise the Kaladan multi-modal project.

But after Operation Sunrise, the Arakan Army has attacked Indian interests more regularly than ever before.

In November last year, five Indian workers and four local workers involved with the Kaladan road project were kidnapped, alongwith a NLD MP in the Chin state.

Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga, a former rebel leader with extensive contacts among the rebel groups on India-Myanmar border, played a key role in getting the workers and the MP released but one of the workers died in captivity.

A similar incident of abduction of local workers involved with the Kaladan project took place in March last year.

The Arakan Army rebels also set ablaze a civilian vessel carrying 300 steel frames for the Paletwa bridge and the crew were abducted.

That perhaps influenced India to undertake Operation Sunrise in close coordination with the Burmese Tatmadaw but instead of cowing down that seems to have provoked the Arakan Army.

AA spokesman U Khaing Thukkha recently told Burmese media that ‘China recognizes us but India doesn’t’.

Analysts like Vivekananda International Foundation’s Jaideep Chanda interpret that as India’s refusal to pay up as upsetting the Arakan Army, which, he feels, China may have already done to ensure there is no disruption for its Kyaukphyu deep sea port and SEZ project.

Initially that project was pitched at $ 6 billion but has now been scaled down to below $ 2 billion because Myanmar fears unsustainable debt burden.

“In Myanmar, China maintains fine relations with both the federal government and the Tatmadaw and also with rebel groups, especially those in the Northern Alliance. It is open secret and widely reported in the media that it has armed the Wa and Kokang groups. It is possible that Chinese agencies have already paid the Arakan Army,” Chanda said.

There is no evidence of Chinese assistance to Arakan Army but the fact that the Chinese project at Kyaukphyu has not been disturbed and the Indian Kaladan project has been has raised suspicions.

‘We should follow the Chinese model of playing all sides rather than get dragged into the Rakhine conflict by the Burmese military,” said John Mukherjee.

The Tatmadaw has recently requested the Indian army to provide it passage through some strategic corridors in southern Mizoram.

That has raised eyebrows in Delhi.

The lessons of getting dragged into Sri Lanka’s Tamil conflict weigh heavy on India, especially its army.

The Indian Peace Keeping Force not only suffered much losses in Jaffna but also that provoked the Tamil Tigers, once backed by India, to attack and kill former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga recently told this writer that he has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister S Jaishanker to appoint a new contractor for the Kaladan project because C&C has gone bankrupt.

“They (C&C) have no idea how to do business in this area. Rakhine is not Indian territory and the Indian Army can’t do much. I have asked Delhi to appoint a new contractor who can then be properly advised,” Zoramthanga told this writer, hinting that the new contractor can be put in touch with the Arakan Army and could pay up to buy peace.

The Arakan Army has maintained it is not against trans-national projects in Rakhine, provided they ‘recognize’ AA and don’t cooperate with the Burmese military.

Zoramthanga, a former rebel leader who now helps Modi bring other north-eastern rebel groups to the table, is clearly against any Indian military adventure in Rakhine.

He would much rather use his influence with the AA to get the Kaladan project, so important for his Mizoram state, completed without a fuss.

But such a course risks upsetting the Burmese, especially its all-powerful military.

Stretched in counter-insurgency duties in Kashmir and the Northeast and having to stand guard over the long borders with China and Pakistan, the Indian Army can ill-afford getting dragged into the Rakhine muddle by wily Burmese generals like it got dragged into Jaffna by a shrewd Sri Lankan president Jayawardene.

The million dollar question before India now is whether it can develop its Myanmar policy entirely on good relations with the ruling regime and the military or it will consider reverting back to the 1987-96 policy of ‘selective relationships’ with rebel groups like Kachin Independence Army (KIA) or National Unity Party of Arakans (NUPA) to protect its interests on the borders which the Myanmar military has failed to control.

With someone like Zoramthanga (who admits to having played some role in the Burmese peace process in pre-Suu Kyi era) around, India could actually consider a role in bringing the AA and the Burmese military to the table.

But the Tatmadaw’s rush of blood, evident in intensified operations in Rakhine and Chin despite the COVID-19 pandemic raging, makes any peace effort difficult, it not impossible.

The Tatmadaw, fresh from its legislative victory in its styming NLD’s parliament bills for greater democratization, is likely to pursue bloody fighting not only in Rakhine and Chin but also in Kachin and Shan states.

Continuous counter-insurgency operations, despite much losses, is crucial to the Tatmadaw’s desperate effort to retain relevance and gain popular support as the saviour of Myanmar.

But that is killing Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘second Panglong’ initiative to initiate a nationwide dialogue with ethnic minorities and rebels representing them following her late father’s vision of a federal and inclusive Burma.

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After Deadly Shelling, Villagers Arrested in Myanmar's Rakhine State

By NYEIN NYEIN 20 April 2020

The Myanmar military arrested 39 residents of Kyauk Seik Village in Rakhine State’s Ponnagyun Township on Sunday, less than a week after eight civilians were killed by artillery strikes on the village near the state capital, Sittwe, on April 13.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the Tatmadaw (as the military is known) arrested 38 villagers and an administrator “on suspicion of affiliation with the AA [Arakan Army].”

“We will interrogate them and if we find any wrongdoing, we will take action in accordance with the laws,” he added.

A 9-year-old boy was among the eight people who were killed on April 13 when three artillery shells, reportedly fired by a Myanmar military battalion, struck the village.

The village is on the Yangon-Sittwe Highway, just a 40-minute drive from Sittwe.

According to both local residents and the Myanmar military spokesman, the main clash between Tatmadaw and AA troops occurred at Pauk Taw Pyin and Painnae Taw villages, some 3 miles (nearly 5 kilometers) from Kyauk Seik.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on April 13 that there was no fighting near Kyauk Seik Village on that day. Rather, he said, a clash occurred in Pauk Taw Pyin Village two days earlier. He also denied that any villages were struck by artillery shells on April 13.

Citing reports from local villagers, U Khin Maung Latt, an Upper House lawmaker representing Ponnagyun Township, said a military unit arrived at Kyauk Seik Village at around 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and asked the village administrator to assemble all the residents.

“But as many villagers had fled their homes following the incidents, in which three artillery strikes killed eight people and injured 13 on April 13, only a few people remained in the village. There were 39 men in total, including the administrator. They were tied up and taken away,” he told The Irrawaddy.

U Ba Shwe, a Kyauk Seik villager whose sons Ko Ye Thet Naing, 22, and Ko Ye Htoo Naing, 18, were among the 39 detainees, told The Irrawaddy that the men were taken at 1 p.m. in the afternoon from administrator U Aye Tun’s home.

U Ba Shwe told The Irrawaddy on Monday that, “Ye Thet Naing is an employee of the [government’s] Cooperative Department, who returned home for the Thingyan holidays. My other son, Ye Htoo Naing, is a high school student. A colonel who took them told me that he would just hold them temporarily and they would be released later. But they are not guilty of anything. I want them to be released quickly.”

Lawmaker U Khin Maung Latt said the villagers could tell the artillery shells were fired by the Myanmar military’s Light Infantry Battalion No. 550 based in Ponnagyun, as the shelling caused vibrations and shook nearby communities.

He said, “It should not happen. This is mass killing and mass detention. These are crimes and the government needs to investigate, as it has a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people.”

Fighting between the military and the AA—which the government declared a terrorist group on March 23—in conflict-torn Rakhine State and adjacent Chin State has caused more than 160,000 people to flee their homes, according to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress. Hundreds of people have been killed, injured or detained by both armies (the Myanmar military and the AA) since November 2018.

In Myanmar, the government has been focusing its efforts on fighting the spread of the coronavirus since the country’s first case of COVID-19 was reported on March 23. As of Monday, 111 people had been infected with the virus, with five fatalities.

In contrast, in a little over a month from March 13 to April 17, by The Irrawaddy’s count 43 people died and nearly 60 were injured in Rakhine State’s Ponnagyun, Minbya, Ann and Kyauktaw townships and Chin State’s Paletwa Township in artillery and military air strikes.

Daw Ma Phyu, 66, from Nan Chaung Wa Village in Paletwa Township, which borders Rakhine State, was still in Mandalay Hospital receiving treatment on her left arm, which was broken when she was struck by shrapnel during a military air strike on April 8.

Seven Nan Chaung Wa villagers died and seven others, including Daw Ma Phyu, were injured on that day when fighting erupted near their village at 8 a.m., followed by air strikes, according to local residents.

“We are still waiting for her to have an operation,” said U Htaung Ko, a nephew of Daw Ma Phyu. Other people who sustained minor injuries are still at Paletwa Hospital, where all of the village’s other residents are now taking shelter.

In Paletwa, 3,657 people from nearby villages, including Nan Chaung Wa, are taking shelter. Relief supplies of rice only reached them on Sunday after being delayed for a few days for security reasons.

“We delivered 830 bags of rice, but it will only last about a week to 10 days,” said Mai Nang Wai, who raises funds for the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee for Chin IDPs (RRCCI).

Since the fighting intensified, some 9,000 villagers have become internally displaced persons in downtown Paletwa and nearby Samee Township, according to the RRCCI.

Samee, some 65 km from Paletwa, hosts some 2,900 IDPs, who fled their homes in Meiksa Wa, Wetma and Pyaing Tain villages in mid-March. A total of 21 villagers were killed and about two dozen were injured when Myanmar military fighter jets opened fire on those villages between March 13 and 15.

Ko Sanay, a Meiksa Wa villager who is currently taking shelter in Samee, said many of the 26 people who were injured in the March air strikes are recovering, but a few are still being treated in Mindat and Mandalay hospitals.

They are not able to return to Samee, as a lockdown and travel restrictions are in place due to COVID-19, he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

“We still hear the sound of gunfire everyday. We want the fighting to stop as soon as possible, so that we can return home,” he added.

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Myanmar Rebel Coalition Calls for Military to Extend Ceasefire to Rakhine

By LAWI WENG 11 May 2020

Members of three ethnic armed groups known as the Brotherhood Alliance have asked the Myanmar army not to exclude Rakhine State from a unilateral ceasefire from May 10 to Aug. 31 as the country is trying to control the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) issued a joint statement Sunday saying that the Myanmar army should not exclude Rakhine from its latest ceasefire, as it has in the past, as the military has ongoing offensives in Rakhine and in Chin State’s Paletwa Township, where many local people are suffering the impacts of the fighting. The Brotherhood Alliance extended its own ceasefire for one month on May 3 but fighting between the groups and the Myanmar military has continued.

The military, also known as the Tatmadaw, announced a unilateral ceasefire on Saturday that will last until Aug. 31 and cover the whole country except areas where terrorist organizations are based, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense.

The Myanmar government declared the AA a terrorist group in late March. The group is involved in ongoing fighting with the Tatmadaw in western Myanmar.

“The Tatmadaw announced a unilateral ceasefire for all areas except areas recognized as the base of a terrorist organization, which refers to Rakhine and Paletwa in Chin,” said the military statement on Saturday.

Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA said the Tatmadaw should announce a nationwide ceasefire.

“If they announced a nationwide ceasefire, we could all work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 effectively. We could even successfully work for peace,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson for the Myanmar army, said the military is unwilling to negotiate with the AA. “Unless the AA is removed from the list of terrorist organizations, we cannot negotiate with them. Therefore, we have to exclude them.”

The military’s announcement on Saturday said the ceasefire is intended to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country, in line with UN Secretary General António Guterres’ call for a worldwide ceasefire to prevent and control the pandemic.

Clashes between the Myanmar military and the AA have intensified steadily since the Rakhine rebels attacked a group of police bases in January 2019, and have continued to worsen this month. The Myanmar military has used naval, air and ground forces in the conflict, while the AA relies on guerrilla tactics and has resorted to abducting civilians, including a ruling party lawmaker and government officials. The conflict has resulted in a high number of civilian causalities. The UN and rights groups have accused the Myanmar army of committing human right abuses in the conflict area. More than 160,000 people have been internally displaced by the conflict in Rakhine.

U Maung Maung Soe, an ethnic affairs analyst, said the Myanmar army will be able to cooperate with other ethnic armed groups such as the Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under the unilateral ceasefire. However, as the army has excluded Rakhine from the ceasefire, he said the fighting in that area will continue as before.

“I do not see any change because of their ceasefire announcement. It will also be difficult to have peace negotiations with members of the Northern Alliance,” U Maung Maung Soe said, referring to a coalition that includes the Brotherhood Alliance as well as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

According to the TNLA, the Myanmar army will use the ceasefire to claim to the world that they are working to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while at the same time they will try to eliminate the AA.

“If they do not stop fighting with the AA, a joint military offensive from our Brotherhood Alliance will come again soon,” Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw said.

The joint statement from Brotherhood Alliance denied the Myanmar army’s claim that the ceasefire is intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, instead saying the Tatmadaw’s announcement is “just for show to the international community, including the International Court of Justice, and would be impossible for it to stop the fighting in the country.”

Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw added that the military is taking advantage of ethnic armed groups’ unilateral ceasefires, like the one from the TNLA, saying that the military is sending its soldiers to travel from one village to another. “We cannot attack them as we announced a unilateral ceasefire,” he said, but added that if the military continues to prepare offensives, fighting could break out at any time.

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All Signs Point to a Worsening of Myanmar’s Rakhine Conflict

By AUNG ZAW 11 May 2020

Far from being contained, the violence in northern Rakhine State continues to spread. With the Arakan Army (AA) having established a foothold in the area, the fighting in Rakhine is escalating and many fear it will only intensify.

To those field commanders who were hoping for a break from the daily fighting, all of the recent news has been bad.

On Sunday, the military (or Tatmadaw) announced a ceasefire in parts of the country effective until Aug. 31, but the measure does not cover Rakhine State. The military’s designation of the AA as terrorist group in March seems certain to lock the two sides into a bitter war. The thinking at the high command in Naypyitaw is that the military needs to be able to concentrate its fighting forces in northern Rakhine, as the conflicts with other ethnic armed groups are deemed less serious, and there has been no fighting at all in some areas, particularly those controlled by the Kachin Independence Army and the Kokang rebel group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.

Officially, the military says the objective of the ceasefire is to allow it to focus on the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic. Since last month, the military has been conducting lab tests for COVID-19 using a machine with capacity to process 200 samples per day at a 300-bed military hospital in eastern Shan State’s Kengtung, under the Triangle Command.

Coinciding with the announcement of the ceasefire, Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing traveled to the Tatmadaw’s Triangle Command, where he met leaders from the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA, also known as the Mong La group).

In separate meetings with leaders of the groups, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing offered to provide assistance to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. However, observers noted that the commander-in-chief also raised the issue of the AA with leaders of the powerful UWSA.

The Wa recently purchased civilian helicopters and now control a sizable army of over 30,000 troops equipped with missiles, drones and several other types of sophisticated weaponry. The Wa also allegedly sell weapons and ammunition to smaller ethnic forces in Myanmar on credit, and the AA is thought to be among their clients.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s meeting with leaders of the NDAA went smoothly and they acknowledged the stability of the relationship between the two sides. Concerns were raised recently, however, when more than 200 Rakhine men returned from China into NDAA territory, where they went quarantine. The NDAA leaders have promised to find jobs for them.

Many ethnic Rakhine who travel to the Chinese border to find work end up joining the AA. The military wants to ensure it can coordinate with NDAA leaders on quarantine procedures for Rakhine men while gathering information on the individuals involved.

Military reshuffle

The senior general’s visit to the Golden Triangle followed a reshuffle of the armed forces’ top brass that saw several younger-generation officers promoted to inject new blood into senior command positions.

Among those promoted was Major General Kyaw Swar Lin, who previously served as head of the Tatmadaw’s Central Command. He has been promoted to lieutenant general and appointed quartermaster general, replacing Lieutenant General Nyo Saw, who is retiring but will remain head of the military-owned Myanmar Economic Cooperation.

Kyaw Swar Lin, 49, becomes the youngest lieutenant general ever to serve in the Myanmar military.

More importantly, Colonel Wai Lin, who previously served in the Coastal Region Command, has been appointed a General Staff officer at the military headquarters in Naypyitaw. He replaces Brigadier General Ko Ko Oo, who is known as a moderate among mid-ranking officers and has been promoted to head the Central Command. In the past, Ko Ko Oo served as the personal security officer for General Maung Aye when the latter was deputy chairman of the formerly ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and No. 2 in the armed forces.

In his new position, Wai Lin will hold the rank of brigadier general and will coordinate between commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy, Vice Senior General Soe Win. He will shuttle between the two offices. Military observers say his position is crucial to the Rakhine conflict, as he will work directly with field commanders.

In his previous position, then Col. Wai Lin was known for his tough stance toward illegal fishing trawlers, smugglers, pirates and fishing boats entering Myanmar waters illegally. It is not known whether Wai Lin was previously based in Rakhine State. Army officers who have served in Rakhine during the armed conflict there over the past eight years are generally looked on favorably within the army and have a high degree of credibility. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Rakhine was relatively peaceful except for occasional military operations to drive out illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and periodic crackdowns on pockets of Muslim insurgents there.

In any case, Wai Lin was one of a group of colonels from the frontline area shortlisted to deal with the unfolding situation in Rakhine. Some insiders believe Ko Ko Oo is competent but not tough enough for the task. To be fair, military officers who know him add that he has done his best to coordinate with field commanders in Rakhine.

Col. Wai Lin will have to work with both Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, but it is likely he will spend more time with the latter, who is now focused on the Rakhine conflict, and on persuading the government and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to take a tougher stance on the AA. It is no secret that Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win has better chemistry with the State Counselor than Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing does.

When news of the ceasefire was announced this weekend, field commanders who were hoping that it would also cover Rakhine State saw their hopes dashed. However, it seems Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, who previously served in Rakhine, Chin and Kachin states, does not intend to give his commanders any rest from the fighting. It can only mean that more bloodshed and an expansion of the conflict lie ahead.

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