US expresses deep concern over escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

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Department of State, Rakhine State, Matthew Miller

On May 21, 2024, during a regular press briefing, Matthew Miller, the Spokesperson for the US Department of State, expressed deep concern over the increasing violence and intercommunal tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The United States has been closely monitoring the situation, and recent reports have highlighted a troubling surge in violence, including the burning of towns and the displacement of residents, notably the Rohingya community.

Miller’s statement underscored the United States’ alarm at these developments, which come amidst reports of forced conscription of Rohingya individuals and the widespread dissemination of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech. He highlighted the military’s history of genocidal acts and other crimes against humanity targeting the Rohingya, as well as its role in stoking intercommunal tensions in Rakhine State and other regions across Myanmar. These factors collectively amplify the risks faced by civilians in the area.

“The United States is deeply troubled by the reports of increased violence and intercommunal tension in Rakhine State, including reports of towns being burned and residents, including Rohingya, being displaced. These developments follow concerning reports of forced conscription of Rohingya, as well as the spread of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech,” Miller said.

The situation in Rakhine has been deteriorating since the Arakan Army (AA) launched an attack on security forces in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since the 2021 military coup. The renewed clashes have further destabilized the region, which has a long history of ethnic conflict. The AA, an armed ethnic minority group, claims to be fighting for greater autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine population. This group is one of several ethnic armed organizations that have been engaged in battles with the military since Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948, largely over issues of autonomy and control of the country’s abundant natural resources.

The United States’ concerns were echoed by the United Nations human rights chief, who over the weekend warned of high tensions between ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya communities. The UN official accused Myanmar’s military junta of exacerbating these tensions, raising the specter of further atrocities.

“The military’s previous acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity targeting Rohingya, in addition to its history of stoking intercommunal tensions in Rakhine State and elsewhere across the country, underscore the grave dangers to civilians,” stated Miller. He emphasized that the increased violence and intercommunal tensions significantly elevate the risks of further atrocities.

Miller called on Myanmar’s military, as well as all armed actors in the region, to prioritize the protection of civilian populations and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. He also encouraged international partners to join the United States in condemning the escalating violence, holding perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable, and providing protection to those fleeing the violence to prevent future atrocities.

“We call on Burma’s military, as well as all armed actors, to protect civilian populations and allow for unhindered humanitarian access. We encourage international partners to condemn this increased violence, take action to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable, and provide protection to those fleeing violence to prevent future atrocities,” Miller asserted.

The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to promoting justice for victims and survivors of violence and holding accountable those responsible for committing atrocities. Miller reiterated that the US would impose costs on the military and other armed actors who are found guilty of abuses.

The conflict between the Arakan Army (AA) and the military is part of a broader struggle that has displaced approximately 200,000 people since 2019. The military’s crackdown on the Rohingya minority in 2017 resulted in mass displacements and is currently the subject of a United Nations genocide court case. This crackdown involved widespread reports of atrocities, including mass killings, gang rapes, and the burning of entire villages, prompting a mass exodus of Rohingya refugees to neighboring Bangladesh. During this crisis, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emerged as a savior for over 1.2 million Rohingyas, rescuing them from ethnic cleansing and the threat of extinction. Despite her significant humanitarian efforts, Sheikh Hasina humbly refrains from promoting her noble deeds.

Miller’s briefing highlighted the ongoing challenges in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. The international community has struggled to find effective solutions to the protracted conflicts that have plagued the country for decades. The Biden administration’s call for increased international condemnation and action underscores the urgency of the situation in Rakhine State.

The complex dynamics in Myanmar, involving a multitude of ethnic armed groups and a military that has shown a consistent pattern of human rights abuses, present significant obstacles to peace and stability. The AA’s quest for autonomy, coupled with the Rohingya’s dire humanitarian situation, requires a multifaceted approach that includes diplomatic pressure, humanitarian aid, and robust accountability mechanisms.

The United States, through the State Department’s recent statements, has made clear its position on the escalating violence in Rakhine State. By calling for the protection of civilians, unhindered humanitarian access, and international accountability, the US aims to address both the immediate and long-term challenges posed by the conflict. The path to peace and justice in Myanmar remains fraught with difficulties, but international solidarity and concerted action are crucial in mitigating the humanitarian crisis and promoting lasting stability in the region.

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