Myanmar & COVID-19

Ambassadors Call for End to Conflict in Myanmar Amid COVID-19

By Nyein Nyein 2 April 2020

Ambassadors from 18 foreign missions in Myanmar have called for ending armed conflicts between the Myanmar military and non-state armed organizations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, urging both sides to focus on “protecting the most vulnerable communities from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.”

In their joint statement on Wednesday, the ambassadors said, “We are deeply concerned about the high level of fighting, casualties and civilian displacement occurring in Rakhine and Chin States, and the threat of further conflict in other areas.”

The statement was jointly issued by the ambassadors of Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

“For the sake of families across Myanmar we support all calls for a cessation of hostilities between Myanmar military and armed organizations, resolution of grievances through dialogue, and a lifting of any internet and media restrictions as well,” it said.

Myanmar has joined the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic since the first confirmed cases in the country were reported ten days ago. The country has had one fatality from COVID-19 as of Thursday. The number of fatalities due to the ongoing armed conflict between the military and the Arakan Army (AA) in western Myanmar has not declined.

The fighting in western Myanmar, which began in 2015 but intensified in November 2018, has left nearly 130,000 people displaced in 10 townships in Rakhine State, according to figures from the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC) at the end of February.

Tens of thousands more are also affected by the fighting in Paletwa Township, Chin State. Paletwa and four townships in northern Rakhine state are under an internet shutdown as the government restricts the spread of local news.

The ambassadors’ statement also 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.

The ambassadors’ statement also said the “conflict impedes humanitarian response” and prevents further assistance from reaching vulnerable groups affected by the fighting, including women, children and those who are disabled, marginalized and displaced.

On the same day, the Brotherhood Alliance of armed groups—comprised of the AA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—said in a statement that they will extend their unilateral ceasefire until April 30, “with the aim to build stability and security on shared borders and to avoid public panic” due to COVID-19.

The AA, TNLA and MNDAA are active ethnic armed groups based in the country’s northeast, though the AA is also trying to establish bases in Rakhine and Chin states in western Myanmar.

The Brotherhood Alliance statement said that the groups “will refrain from engaging in clashes with the Myanmar army in order not to hinder the planning and prevention activities to combat this global pandemic” and to “actively” cooperate with neighboring countries along their borders.

The government designated the AA as a terrorist group and an unlawful association on March 23.

The Myanmar police began a crackdown on the media this week, attempting to persecute journalists under the Counterterrorism Law for communicating with the AA and publishing interviews with members of the armed group. Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar, Rakhine-based Narinjara, Yangon-based Khit Thit News and others all face lawsuits.

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