Myanmar Junta Uses Japan-Donated Ships to Transport Troops in Rakhine: HRW

By The Irrawaddy 11 October 2022

Myanmar’s military regime used ships donated by Japan for civilian use to transport troops in war-torn northern Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday. The rights watchdog called on the Japanese government to suspend non-humanitarian aid to Myanmar and sanction junta officials linked with serious human rights violations.

Citing confidential letters sent from Myanmar National Inland Water Transport to the junta’s Transport and Communications Ministry, HRW said Rakhine’s transport minister ordered its Department of Inland Water Transport on September 13 to “ready” the Japan-donated “Kisapanadi I” and “Kisapanadi III” for voyages between state capital Sittwe and Buthidaung.

The letter stated that on September 14, the two ships transported “over 100 Tatmadaw [Myanmar] troops, as well as their supplies and materials” along the Mayu River to Buthidaung in northern Rakhine, where the regime is fighting the Arakan Army (AA) ethnic armed group.

The vessels used were among three ships delivered by Japan between 2017 and 2019. Japan provided the vessels to Myanmar under the 500-million-yen (US$3.5 million) Economic and Social Development Program signed in September 2016 under the National League for Democracy government. The Japanese embassy in Myanmar said the program aimed “to improve water transport in Myanmar and contribute to the economic and social development of Myanmar by donating passenger ships for coastal transport in Rakhine State”.

The regime has been reinforcing its forces in northern Rakhine State since August, launching airstrikes and heavy artillery bombardments against AA troops there and in Paletwa Township of neighboring Chin State.

Despite deploying heavy weaponry, the regime is struggling for control in northern Rakhine State where the AA has seized at least 30 junta outposts in Maungdaw. On Monday, it occupied a regime border police outpost in the area, capturing three prisoners, retrieving bodies of junta personnel and seizing weapons and military equipment.

The UN said fighting in Rakhine and Chin State has displaced more than 17,400 people since August and prompted a travel clampdown that is delaying delivery of critical aid, particularly food.

Rakhine State’s chief of police and transport minister confirmed in a September 23 letter to the national transport and communications minister that the two vessels had been used for “military purposes”, HRW said.

In the letter, Rakhine authorities sought to justify military use of ships, citing provision No 250 of Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution, which states “the Region or State Government shall have the responsibility to assist the Union Government in the preservation of the stability of the Union, community peace and tranquility and prevalence of law and order.”

HRW’s Asia program officer Teppei Kasai said the regime’s misuse of Japanese aid for military purposes effectively made Japan a backer of junta military operations, adding “the Japanese government needs to urgently reassess its obviously failing approach to curtailing the junta’s abuses.”

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official responded to HRW’s inquiry on October 3, saying Tokyo was working to ensure appropriate use of facilities and equipment provided through Official Development Assistance programs.

“Japan is taking appropriate measures regarding the issue in question,” said the official, declining to disclose further details because it was a “diplomatic matter,” the HRW said.

Following the February 1, 2021 military coup in Myanmar, the Japanese government called a halt on new non-humanitarian ODA programs in Myanmar but did not suspend ongoing projects. As of November 2021, Japan had provided about $9.6 billion in loan assistance, $2.5 billion in aid grants, and $690 million in technical assistance to Myanmar.