Myanmar & COVID-19

Myanmar Vows to Probe Killing of WHO Driver Transporting COVID-19 Swabs

By Nyein Nyein 22 April 2020

The Myanmar government has promised to investigate Monday’s fatal attack on a vehicle marked with the World Health Organization’s logo that was transporting swab samples for COVID-19 testing in Rakhine State’s Minbya Township, which left a local WHO staffer dead.

UN agencies and 16 humanitarian groups working in Myanmar on Tuesday condemned the attack on the clearly marked WHO vehicle. The humanitarian agencies also called for an immediate ceasefire in the western Myanmar state. The WHO is a UN agency.

On Wednesday, the US Embassy in Myanmar condemned the attack on the WHO vehicle, “[urging] the authorities to launch a full investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Tuesday evening said in a post on its Facebook page that “The Government is fully committed to investigate the incident and to prevent [a] recurrence of such abhorrent acts.”

The UN, humanitarian organizations and the MOFA expressed their condolences to the victim’s family and wished “a swift recovery” to a Health Ministry official who was injured in the attack.

The MOFA statement said the government “will continue to work closely with the United Nations and the WHO to overcome the global pandemic notwithstanding the challenge posed by armed groups.”

As of Wednesday morning, Myanmar had 121 confirmed coronavirus infections, with five fatalities and nine recoveries.

Local WHO staffer U Pyae Sone Win Maung, 28, was driving the vehicle transporting nasal and throat swabs taken from 20 people in various townships in Rakhine State from the capital Sittwe to Yangon when he was shot on Monday afternoon. He later died at Minbya Hospital from his wounds.

Another man, U Aung Myo Oo, a health care worker with the Ministry of Health and Sports, suffered wounds to his right hand and is being treated at Sittwe Hospital.

The UN confirmed the loss of its employee and the organization’s flag was at half-mast at the UN office in Yangon on Tuesday.

U Pyae Sone Win Maung had worked for the WHO for over two years, according to his father U Htay Win Maung. His body will be returned to the family.

“We are in great sorrow,” U Htay Win Maung said, “as he died from gunshot wounds while he was not in a frontline battle.”

The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the Arakan Army (AA) both denied responsibility for the shooting and blamed each other.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, issued a statement saying Guterres “strongly condemns” Monday’s attack in Rakhine State and “calls for a full and transparent investigation into the incident and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.”

UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee tweeted on Wednesday that the shooting was “unacceptable” and that local officials “must conduct an independent international investigation into what really happened [to see] the perpetrator(s) held accountable.”

Sixteen humanitarian organizations including Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision Myanmar, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee and Christian Aid, expressed “extreme concern” over the fatal incident involving a WHO vehicle carrying swab samples.

The agencies called on all armed groups in Myanmar to “commit to an immediate ceasefire.”

A statement issued by the 16 agencies reads, “The incident in Minbya Township on April 20th demonstrates the urgent need for armed actors in Myanmar to lay down their weapons, heeding the call [last month] of the UN Secretary General for a global ceasefire.”

Since November 2018, fighting between the Tatmadaw and the AA—an ethnic armed group the government declared a terrorist group last month—in Rakhine and Chin states has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and displaced nearly 160,000 people in Rakhine and nearly 10,000 in adjacent Chin State’s Paletwa Township.

The humanitarian agencies said the conflict is “…severely hampering access to health care as well as other efforts to reach communities with much needed assistance in the midst of a global pandemic.”

They urged that a safe environment be created for those “millions of frontline health workers, humanitarian staff and other key workers [who] are trying to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” in Myanmar and across the world.

On Tuesday afternoon, another deadly incident occurred involving a vehicle of the CPS Competitive Pest Service Company near Phar Pyo Village in Minbya Township.

The vehicle was driving from Ann Township to Sittwe to transport disinfectant to a bank there, according to a local administrative official in the state capital.

The driver of the vehicle, U Nwe Nwe Maung, 30, died after being shot in the head and another employee in the vehicle, Maung Hein Htet Oo, was wounded.

The Tatmadaw blamed the AA for the shooting, in a press release issued by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services.

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