GENEVA – Tens of thousands of people have been displaced across Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states this year, as the military battles ethnic Rakhine Buddhist rebels, a U.N. rights expert said Monday.
“Up to 65,000 people have been displaced by the conflict across northern Rakhine and southern Chin states since January,” said Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights situation in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s army has deployed thousands of troops there in recent months to try to crush rebels from the Arakan Army (AA), who are fighting for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
Presenting an update on the situation in the Asian country to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lee pointed out that the military had been “using helicopter gunships against the Arakan Army.”
“Both sides are accused of indiscriminate use of heavy artillery fire, gunfire and landmines in civilian areas,” she said.
At the same time, humanitarian access “remains heavily restricted by the state government in conflict-affected townships, significantly depriving at least 100,000 people of assistance and basic services.”
And “imposed curfews are preventing people from reaching livelihoods, medical treatment and safe passage,” she warned.
Lee said in recent months she had continued to receive reports of civilians, including children, being killed, either because they were targeted or hit with indiscriminate fire in the region.
She also voiced alarm at “disturbing reports of ethnic Rakhine men being arrested by the military on suspicion of association with AA and held incommunicado for weeks,” amid allegations of torture and deaths in detention.
Lee voiced particular concern over reports that as many as six villages have been burned since the end of June.
This, she cautioned, was also when the government suspended all mobile internet service in the region.
“The suspension cannot be justified under international law and is a violation of multiple rights,” Lee said, calling on Myanmar to “lift the suspension immediately.”
“The parties to the conflict must end their hostilities. The people of Rakhine have suffered enough.”
The conflict-scarred Rakhine state was also the site of a deadly crackdown that in August 2017 drove some 740,000 minority Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.
A separate U.N. fact-finding mission into the rights situation in Myanmar warned in a report published earlier Monday that some 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar still face a “serious risk of genocide.
And Lee on Monday dismissed Myanmar’s claims that it had done what was needed to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
“Myanmar has done nothing to dismantle the system of violence and persecution, and the Rohingya who remain in Rakhine live in the same dire circumstances that they did prior to (those) events,” she said.
She pointed to satellite imagery revealing development of “34 camps, the precise purpose of which is unclear but they may be intended to detain the remaining Rohingya population and those who decide to return.”