POST TIME: 11 February, 2019 10:01:38 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 11 February, 2019 05:00:27 PM
Myanmar army shelling villages in Rakhine state: Rights group
Independent Online/ The Guardian

Myanmar army shelling villages in Rakhine state: Rights group

Myanmar soldiers are shelling villages, detaining civilians and blocking aid as part of a new crackdown in Rakhine state by some of the army units implicated in atrocities against the Rohingya, a rights group says.

Villagers and local activists in the northern Myanmar state have told Amnesty International that artillery or mortar shells are being fired in the vicinity of townships and people are returning to abandoned communities to find properties looted and damaged.

Military activity in the restive state has intensified since early January when an armed ethnic Rakhine group called the Arakan Army attacked four police posts, reportedly killing 13 officers.More than 5,200 people have been displaced by the subsequent fighting, the UN says, and dozens of families have reportedly fled into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Nearly a million Muslim Rohingya people are sheltering in sprawling refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, but most of those displaced in the latest fighting belong to Buddhist ethnic minorities who, unlike the Rohingya, are recognised as Burmese citizens.

The Arakan Army is made up predominantly of members of the Rakhine ethnic minority who are fighting for independence for the coastal state that was an autonomous kingdom until the 18th century.

Myanmar’s borderlands are wracked by several insurgencies who fight in the name of the country’s patchwork of ethnic or religious minorities.

A woman belonging to the ethnic Mro minority told Amnesty that security forces had restricted the amount of rice that could be brought into the her village in Kyauktaw township, exacerbating an existing shortage of supplies.State authorities have barred any UN or international humanitarian agencies except for the Red Cross and the World Food Programme from operating in conflict-affected areas. Some community leaders also appear to have been arbitrarily detained, Amnesty said.

“These latest operations are yet another reminder that the Myanmar military operates without any regard for human rights,” said Tirana Hassan, the organisation’s director of crisis response.

“Shelling inhabited villages and withholding food supplies is unjustifiable under any circumstances.”

Amnesty said it had received reports that army divisions accused of carrying out crimes against the Rohingya, including the 99th Light Infantry Division (LID), had been deployed to Rakhine state since the 4 January attacks.

In September, members of a UN fact-finding mission called for the investigation and prosecution of senior Myanmar army officials for crimes that could amount to genocide against ethnic minorities in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states. Their report said the 99th LID “were responsible for some of the most serious violations”.

“Despite international condemnation over the Myanmar military’s atrocities, all evidence suggests that they are brazenly committing yet more serious abuses,” Hassan said.

The international criminal court has ruled it can prosecute Myanmar for alleged crimes against humanity. Prosecutors are currently assessing whether enough evidence exists to apply for a full-blown investigation, the second step in deciding whether to lay charges.