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ARU report to OIC: Rakhine remains unstable

  • Published at 05:24 pm June 18th, 2020
rohingya camp
File photo of rohingyas living in camps are trapped there for long, people are born into camps, grow up in camps and become adults in camps Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The emerging Covid-19 situation in Rakhine has been overshadowed by the increase in volatility with numerous spikes of violent clashes between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military, according to the report

Rakhine state remains unstable with no sign of improvement on the ground as Myanmar battles Covid-19 with the rest of the world, according to the latest report by the Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU), a global platform advocating for Rohingya rights. 

The report, submitted to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) by ARU Director General Dr Wakar Uddin on Tuesday, says the emerging Covid-19 situation in Rakhine has been overshadowed by the spikes in violent clashes between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military in Rakhine.  

“A possible transformation of armed conflict, from the traditional jungle fights in rural areas to a new type of urban warfare in Arakan State, is imminent,” the report says. 

It says on June 11, at around 8am, two military personnel, in civilian attire, were reportedly attacked by a group of assailants when the soldiers went shopping at a market in Punnagyun city, according to a Myanmar military spokesperson, who called the assailants “Arakan Army insurgents” when speaking with the Washington-based Voice of America (VoA) Burmese program.

“The military officer who was stabbed has survived and is receiving medical treatment... the other soldier is still missing,” the spokesperson further said.

The accounts given by the spokesperson were reportedly disputed by local residents, who claimed that the military officer who was stabbed had succumbed to the injury, the ARU report says. 

Residents have further indicated that the Myanmar military is conducting a search operation to find the other soldier. 

The stepping up of the offensive by the military has reportedly caused some civilian casualties.

“We heard that there was a body at a location near the garrison, but we cannot go out and check, no one can go, there will be shooting. Because of this all the shops in Punnagyun are closed, and nobody is on the street,” a local resident said, according to the source on the ground.

On June 10, armed clashes erupted near Myebon and Ann Township where the Western Command of the Myanmar military is stationed, the ARU report says. 

On the same day, armed clashes were reported, following an explosion at a location between Kyauk Goke and Thitpoke Taung villages where the village residents have fled to nearby villages.

Brig Gen Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson of military information, said the Arakan Army could take control of Rakhine if the current system of government failed to implement effective governance in Northern Rakhine state, according to a report published by the Myanmar Times on Sunday. 

However, the warning by the military was reportedly rebutted by the government. 

At a press conference held in Naypyidaw on Monday, the director of the Office of General Administration of the Ministry of Government Office, U Myint Thein, said disruption of governance by the Arakan Army in Northern Rakhine had not reached a level of concern to require replacement of the current system of government by military rule, the ARU report says. 

Another possible setback for Rohingya repatriation

Since the signing of the agreement between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar for the safe, dignified and voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees to their original homes in Rakhine in late 2017, nothing had been implemented due to a number of stumbling blocks set up by Myanmar government officials, the ARU report says.

The obstacles include not creating conducive conditions on the ground in Rakhine, including construction of refugee camps on the Myanmar side for the possible returnees, rejecting family members from the list of returnees that Bangladesh has submitted to Myanmar, the Myanmar government complicating the process with NVC, and several others. 

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the leadership in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh have expressed major concerns about possible exploitation of the Covid-19 situation by the Myanmar authorities against the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. 

After so much anxiety, the concerns have turned out to be a reality. A Rohingya man who returned voluntarily from Bangladesh to his native Rakhine state reportedly tested positive for Covid-19, according to a report by Irrawaddy, citing local authorities. 

He was reportedly part of a five-member family who chose to cross the border and returned to their village in Maungdaw Township on May 30, the report says.

The test result could not be independently verified through any international healthcare group.

In relation to the development, a Buddhist Rakhine extremist group organized a rally in Maungdaw, demanding the government block the return of the refugees from Bangladesh, the ARU report says.  

However, the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD), a semi-governmental body in Myanmar, has said the process of repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh will be resumed after the coronavirus pandemic situation is effectively managed, according to Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA).

The ARU has also put forth a set of recommendations for the OIC and the international community to be placed before the Myanmar government. They are: 

  • To submit mandatory reports to the International Court of Justice that accurately reflect the real situation on the ground in Rakhine
  • To immediately resume the refugee repatriation process, including restoration of citizenship, all basic rights and security of the Rohingya people
  • Not to exploit the Covid-19 situation to further delay the repatriation process
  • To prevent the establishment of any military or undemocratic dictatorial rule in Northern Rakhine State on the pretext of the military’s armed conflict with any armed group
  • To prosecute any township administration official in Rakhine who violates the rights of the internally/locally displaced Rohingyas to return to their original homes, harass, extort, and threaten to evict them from their homes with impunity
  • Protect Rohingyas and other innocent civilian populations in the newly emerging urban violence and armed clashes in Rakhine

The ARU also urged the OIC and the international community to demand that Facebook officials exercise  greater transparency and unconditionally release all postings by current and former Myanmar military officials, police forces and extremist organizations that include various forms of systematic campaigns, propaganda and hate speech directed towards the Rohingyas.

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