Humanitarians Join UN, Ambassadors in Calling for Ceasefire in Myanmar's Rakhine State
By Nyein Nyein 1 July 2020
Twenty-one international humanitarian organizations working in Myanmar issued a statement Tuesday urging the military and the Arakan Army to stop further escalation of the conflict in Rakhine State, to protect civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law.
“As international humanitarian organizations working with communities throughout Rakhine State, we express deep concern for all those affected by the upsurge in fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar Military in northern Rakhine State,” their statement on Tuesday read.
The statement was released by international NGOs working closely with communities throughout Rakhine and Chin states on humanitarian relief and development assistance, including Save the Children, World Vision, CARE International, Action Aid Myanmar, the Danish Refugee Council, the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee, Lutheran World Federation, Oxfam, Mercy Corps and Plan International.
The INGOs echoed concerns voiced by the United Nations on Sunday and by four diplomatic missions in Myanmar on Saturday over the humanitarian impact of conflict in Rakhine and adjacent southern Chin State. The groups and diplomats have all called for the AA and the Myanmar military to respect international humanitarian law and allow humanitarian access to the conflict area.
Thousands of civilians in Kyauktan village-tract in Rakhine’s Rathedaung Township have fled their homes following continuous fighting and an evacuation order—which was later revoked—telling them to leave due to upcoming military ‘clearance operations’.
Citing local sources in Kyauktan, the INGOs wrote, “We are deeply concerned by reports of burning villages, indiscriminate fire and the arbitrary detention of civilians.”
“These latest operations will likely cause greater hunger, displacement and human suffering at a time when populations are dealing with COVID-19 and heavy rains from the monsoon season,” it said.
The INGOs said that because many local farmers have been displaced during the planting season, the recent escalation of fighting is likely to hurt the long-term food security and livelihoods of impacted communities.
As of Tuesday, more than 77,200 people are displaced in Rakhine and Chin states, including 14,575 civilians in Rathedaung, according to reports from the state government and humanitarian groups cited by the UN.
Since November 2018, intensified fighting between the military and the AA has affected more than 156,000 people in Rakhine State’s ten townships, according to figures from local relief group the Rakhine Ethnic Congress on June 8. The violence has forced many civilians to move to camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) and temporary shelters.
In early April, many of the INGOs that spoke out this week, as well as 18 ambassadors to Myanmar, also called for an end to armed conflicts in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and urged all armed groups to protect civilians.
The INGOs and the UN cited the UN secretary general’s call on March 23 “for armed groups across the world to implement a global ceasefire” while the world is fighting against the coronavirus disease.
On the same day, the government designated the AA as a terrorist group and an unlawful association. Peace talks between the government and the AA have stalled.
This week, the UN, INGOs and the diplomatic missions all urged Myanmar “to heed the call by the UN Secretary-General for a global ceasefire” by implementing a countrywide ceasfire, without exceptions. The INGOs said this would enable the protection of civilians and allow support efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to evolve in Myanmar.
They also urged the government to “uphold the human rights of all civilians” and to grant relief workers, journalists and human rights observers free access to all areas of Rakhine and Chin states in order to assess the needs of local communities.
The humanitarian organizations highlighted that a ceasefire is necessary to get assistance to affected communities in areas where “humanitarian access is already extremely limited and assistance is simply not able to reach many of the most impacted communities.”
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