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UN expert 'fears for civilians' after Internet shutdown in Myanmar

June 25, 2019 00:00:00

YANGON, June 24 (Agencies): An unprecedented shutdown of mobile data across swathes of Myanmar's restive Rakhine state entered a third day Sunday, blocking villagers from the internet in areas where the army is accused of abuses in its battle with ethnic rebels.

Myanmar's Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) ordered all mobile phone operators on Friday to suspend internet data in nine townships across Rakhine and neighbouring Chin State.

A UN expert warned on Monday the shutdown of mobile data networks could have serious implications for human rights and humanitarian monitoring in the conflict areas of Rakhine and Chin States.

"As there's no media access and serious restrictions on humanitarian organisations in the conflict-affected area, the entire region is in a blackout," said Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

She feared for all civilians there, cut off and without the necessary means to communicate with people inside and outside the area.

Recent reports allege violations of human rights and international humanitarian law to have been committed against the civilian population by both parties to the conflict in the last six months, according to a message received here from Geneva.

There are credible reports that on June 19, the Myanmar Military (Tatmadaw) conducted helicopter attacks in Minbya Township in central Rakhine.

The following day, the Arakan Army fired on a navy ship in Sittwe, killing and injuring several soldiers.

"I'm told that the Tatmadaw is now conducting a 'clearance operation', which we all know by now can be a cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population," the UN expert said.

"We must not forget that these are the same security forces that have so far avoided accountability for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine State less than two years ago."

The conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw has been ongoing since late 2018, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.

Over 35,000 civilians have been displaced and dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed and injured by both indiscriminate and targeted attacks. Others, mainly ethnic Rakhine men, have died while in the military's custody.

"I call on the (Myanmar) government to reverse its decision to impose the mobile internet ban," Lee said.

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