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Renewed Fighting in Rakhine Endangers Ethnic Minorities

Residents, who fled from conflict between the Myanmar army and the Arakan Army (AA), arrive at a temporary refugee camp at a monastery in Sittwe, Rakhine State on June 29, 2020. (Photo by - / AFP)

Fighting between the Burmese army and an ethnic armed group has intensified in Burma's Rakhine State, threatening thousands of civilians.

In recent weeks, fighting between the Burmese army and an ethnic armed group has intensified in Burma's Rakhine State, threatening thousands of civilians.

The Burmese military has been fighting the Arakan Army - an ethnic armed group that has lodged a number of grievances against the central government — in Rakhine and Chin states, with violence escalating significantly since January last year.

A joint statement issued by the Embassies of the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and Canada stressed that “Access for humanitarian organizations must be allowed to provide appropriate response, particularly as communities respond to COVID-19 and the monsoon season.”

The joint statement called for the “protection of civilians, their property and livelihoods by all parties.” The displacement of local communities along the Kyuaktan village tract will contribute to Rakhine’s growing internally displaced population, the statement said. “We’re aware of reports of burning of property, shelling and the arrests of villagers.” The U.S., Australia, United Kingdom, and Canada “call on all armed actors to exercise restraint while in areas inhabited by local communities,” said the statement.

In the meantime, the Rohingya, an ethnic and religious minority group, continue to face dire conditions in refugee and displacement camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, and in Rakhine State. Many have sought refuge in nearby countries,including Indonesia. The U.S. commends the government of Indonesia and local authorities in Aceh for their response to arrival of 99 Rohingya refugees on June 24 in Indonesian waters.

“We applaud Indonesia’s humanitarian actions with respect to this vulnerable population and for serving as a leader within ASEAN on this pressing issue,” said State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. “It sets a strong example for countries in the region and the entire international community.”

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Rakhine and Chin States. Dialogue between armed actors is urgently needed. State Department Spokesperson Ortagus reiterated the call for “a cessation to fighting, peaceful dialogue, renewed efforts to protect local communities and access for humanitarian organizations.” Furthermore, the Burmese military has obligations under the International Court of Justice to protect Rohingya and others from further harm.