UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A majority of U.N. Security Council members called for an immediate halt to fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Arakan Army guerrilla force following a closed council meeting on the latest situation in the southeast Asian nation.
A joint statement from eight of the 15 council nations said the clashes in western Rakhine and Chin states are taking “a heavy toll” on local communities and risk escalating, and stressed that a halt to fighting is “even more urgent in light of the increased number of COVID-19 cases in Rakhine State.”
The government has been embroiled for more than a year in an intermittent conflict with the well-trained and well-armed Arakan Army representing members of the area’s Rakhine ethnic group.
The guerrilla force is posing the strongest military challenge to the central government of the many ethnic minority groups who for decades have sought greater autonomy.
Human rights advocates have accused Myanmar’s army of using undue force and targeting civilians in their operations fighting the guerrillas.
The fighting is continuing as an upsurge in coronavirus cases that began in August in Rakhine has since spread to other parts of the country. Myanmar on Friday re-imposed its toughest measures so far to control the spread of COVID-19, banning travel out of the country’s biggest city, Yangon, and grounding all domestic flights until Oct. 1.
Addressing the situation in Rakhine more broadly, the eight countries called on Myanmar to accelerate its efforts to address the long-term causes of the crisis that led more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh over three years ago “because of violence perpetrated by the Myanmar military.”
Myanmar has long claimed the Rohingya are “Bengali” migrants from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all Rohingya have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless, and they are denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.
The eight countries — United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, Dominican Republic and Tunisia — encouraged Myanmar to set out “a transparent and credible plan” to implement recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, and the Independent Commission of Enquiry.
The Rakhine Commission, headed by the late former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, called on Myanmar before the August 2017 attacks began to grant citizenship and ensure other rights to the Rohingya, and urged the government to promote investment and community-directed growth to alleviate poverty in Rakhine.
The Independent Commission of Inquiry, established by Myanmar’s government, concluded in January 2020 that there are reasons to believe security forces committed war crimes in counterinsurgency operations that forced Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh but said there is no evidence supporting genocide.
The eight council nations noted that Myanmar is required, under a ruling that same month by the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ top court, to do all it can to prevent genocide against the Rohingya people.
Calling themselves “committed supporters of Myanmar’s democratic transition,” the eight council members said they recognized efforts made by its government on democratization and called Nov. 8 elections “an important milestone in Myanmar’s transition, which the international community has supported with funding and technical expertise.”
“We underline the importance of ensuring individuals of all communities, including Rohingya, are able to participate safely, fully, and equally in credible and inclusive elections,” they said.