YANGON, Myanmar – Amnesty International accused on Wednesday the Myanmar military of committing war crimes during its offensive against the Arakan Army in the western part of the country, after the government’s order to crush the armed group.
In a new report, the non-profit said that in the last few months Myanmar soldiers have killed and wounded civilians in indiscriminate attacks in Rakhine state, the same area where the Army in 2017 carried out an offensive against the mostly-Muslim Rohingya minority group, an operation the United Nations said showed evidence of genocidal intent.
In the report, titled “No one can protect us: War crimes and abuses in Myanmar’s Rakhine State,” AI also denounces atrocities committed by the Arakan Army, such as abductions and intimidation, but accuses the Myanmar military of committing human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, and enforced disappearances.
“Less than two years since the world outrage over the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya population, the Myanmar military is again committing horrific abuses against ethnic groups in Rakhine State,” Nicholas Bequelin, AI’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, said in a statement.
“The new operations in Rakhine State show an unrepentant, unreformed and unaccountable military terrorizing civilians and committing widespread violations as a deliberate tactic,” he added.
Bequelin criticized the Myanmar government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for remaining silent about the abuses and asked the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and to refer the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court.
AI’s report is based on 81 interviews, 54 of which were conducted on the ground in Rakhine, with people of different ethnicities and religions.
The Arakan Army, one of the various rebel groups engaged in armed conflict in Myanmar, was formed in 2009 by students of the Rakhine ethnic group – which is predominantly Buddhist, like 90 percent of the country’s population, and forms the majority in the state – and currently has around 7,000 fighters.
More than 20,000 people have been displaced in the last four months owing to clashes between the guerrilla group and the military, according to the UN.
These are in addition to at least 128,000 displaced Rohingyas, who are not recognized as citizens by Myanmar and have been living in camps since 2012 after sectarian violence broke out with the Rakhine inhabitants.
Hostilities between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army have continued after the former’s offensive against Rohingya insurgents, which, in 2017, led around 723,000 people from this minority to flee to Bangladesh, where they are living in the world’s largest refugee camp.
The Myanmar government, which has signed ceasefire agreements and engaged in peace talks with other guerrilla groups of ethnic minorities, refuses to negotiate with the Arakan Army, which it considers a terrorist group.