23 May 2024, 17:28

UN investigators probing mass displacement in Myanmar

GENEVA, May 23, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - UN war crimes investigators said
Thursday they were tracking the escalating fighting in conflict-torn Myanmar's
Rakhine State, and were probing reports that thousands from a persecuted
minority had been displaced.

The United Nations' Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM)
said in a statement that it was closely following events unfolding on the ground in
Rakhine and "assessing if crimes against humanity and war crimes have been

Clashes have rocked Rakhine since the Arakan Army (AA) attacked junta forces
in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since a military coup in

The AA says it is fighting for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine population in
the state, which is also home to around 600,000 members of the persecuted
Rohingya Muslim minority.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Rakhine in 2017 during a crackdown by
the military that is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case.

"We are examining numerous reports of high intensity fighting between the
Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, including increased violence and the
destruction of property in Buthidaung Township," the IIMM said in a statement.
That violence, the team said, "has reportedly resulted in the displacement of
thousands of mainly Rohingya civilians, and is also impacting on Rakhine and
Hindu communities".

The AA said it had seized Buthidaung last week, the latest victory it has claimed
against the junta in Rakhine state.

It said it had warned residents of the town to leave and had subsequently been
"assisting people in moving to safer areas" but did not give any details.
But a joint statement released by several Rohingya organisations based abroad
said earlier this week that AA fighters had forced Rohingya residents to leave
Buthidaung and then burned and looted their homes.

It said the Rohingya were then directed by the fighters into areas controlled by
the AA.

The statement called for the AA to end "forced displacement and human rights
violations" against the Rohingya.

The IIMM was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 to collect
evidence of the most serious international crimes and prepare files for criminal

Beyond Rakhine, it said Thursday that it was also collecting evidence of
"potential serious international crimes committed in other parts of Myanmar as
conflict continues to increase across the country".

The team highlighted that they had been mandated to investigate "the most
serious international crimes in Myanmar regardless of the affiliation of the

"This includes crimes committed by the Myanmar security forces, as well as
members of armed groups."

The investigators stressed that "under the laws of war, people who are not taking
active part in hostilities may not be targeted, and all parties should take measures
to minimise harm to civilians and civilian objects, such as homes, schools and

The team, which has never been permitted to visit Myanmar, called for witnesses
to come forward to provide evidence of violations on the ground.

"Testimonies of witnesses and survivors of crimes are vital for us to build criminal
cases against perpetrators," it said, also calling for "people with knowledge of
illegal orders or policies", to share what they know.

"We encourage anyone who has information about serious crimes committed in
Rakhine State, and elsewhere in the country, to contact us through our secure and
confidential channels."


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