UN to hold video conference over violence, virus in Myanmar

A Myanmar border guard watches over a police station in northern Rakhine last year. (AFP pic)

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council will hold a video conference to discuss the escalation of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, diplomatic sources said Monday.

The closed-door meeting, planned for Thursday, was requested by the UK. The UN envoy for Myanmar, Switzerland’s Christine Schraner Burgener, is scheduled to give comments.

At the end of April, a Myanmar government health worker was injured and his driver – who worked for the World Health Organization (WHO) – was killed when their United Nations-marked vehicle was ambushed as they carried Covid-19 test samples in conflict-ridden Rakhine state.

The country’s northwest has been embroiled in an increasingly brutal civil war between Myanmar’s military and Arakan Army rebels demanding more autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine population.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attack. He called for “a full and transparent investigation” and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, his spokesman said in a statement.

The attack came amid increasing calls for a global ceasefire and protection for civilians displaced by the pandemic.

The last Security Council meeting on Myanmar was in February. China, which backs Myanmar and regularly opposes UN intervention in the country, prevented the adoption of a joint statement by the 15 Council members.

Scores have been killed in Myanmar, hundreds injured and tens of thousands displaced since fighting erupted at the beginning of last year, with both sides trading allegations of abuses committed.

Since the start of August 2017, about 740,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh, fleeing atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and Buddhist militias, in what has been described as “genocide” by UN investigators.

The exact number of Rohingya killed during the violence is unknown, but multiple NGOs estimate it to be at least several thousand.

During a briefing Monday on the pandemic, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced that the UN Development Programme and the UN Refugee Agency had reached an agreement with Myanmar’s government to extend the Memorandum of Understanding through June 2021 in Rakhine state.

The memorandum “aims to allow for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh”.