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In the news: Investigate Myanmar army for new Rakhine State ‘war crimes’, UN watchdog says

‘Schools, houses, and a Buddhist temple have been burned or destroyed.’

Ma Khin May Oo, 12, injured by shelling in Buthidaung township in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, arrives for medical treatment in Yangon on 19 February 2020. (Ann Wang/REUTERS)

Myanmar’s military should be investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in an increasingly bloody conflict in Rakhine State, a UN rights watchdog said Wednesday.

Yanghee Lee, the special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said the country’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, is targeting civilians in its conflict with the rebel Arakan Army in parts of Rakhine and Chin states in the country’s west.

“The Tatmadaw is systematically violating the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights,” Lee said in a statement.

Air and artillery strikes have killed and injured civilians, she said, also accusing the army of torturing suspected rebels and blocking injured civilians from healthcare

“Schools, houses, and a Buddhist temple have been burned or destroyed; even an entire village of up to 700 homes,” she said.

The military campaign against the Arakan Army is one of the most recent to flare in a country that has seen decades of conflict. Local aid groups say more than 100,000 people have been displaced since January 2019, amid sweeping humanitarian restrictions and an internet blackout.

The Arakan Army says it is fighting for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine community, but Myanmar has declared the insurgent group to be “terrorists”.

The conflict has worsened in recent weeks even amid calls for a ceasefire to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100 civilians have been killed or injured since early April, the UN said.

This month, a World Health Organisation driver was shot and killed while transporting coronavirus samples from Rakhine. The government blamed the 20 April attack on fighters with the Arakan Army, which denied involvement.

Myanmar’s military was already facing accusations of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for its purge of the minority Rohingya, who are also from Rakhine State. Investigators with a UN rights probe also singled out abuses in the country’s other conflicts, including in Myanmar’s northern borderlands and in Rakhine.

– Irwin Loy

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