Fortify Rights says the Myanmar military may have committed war crimes by arresting aid workers and destroying food supplies.
A major human rights group says Myanmar military may have committed war crimes in the eastern state of Karenni by arresting aid workers and destroying food supplies as part of an attempt to stop aid to tens of thousands of people displaced by of the conflict.
In a new report on Wednesday, Fortify Rights said the Myanmar military has arrested at least 14 aid workers in Karenni state, also known as Kayah, since it took power in a February 1 coup.
Based on more than 20 interviews with displaced persons, aid workers and members of armed groups, Fortify Rights said the military also carried out arson attacks and destroyed food, medicine and aid for the displaced.
“Stopping aid and targeting aid workers in the context of an armed conflict are war crimes,” said Ismail Wolff, regional director of Fortify Rights.
“The Myanmar junta poses a threat to regional peace and security. UN and ASEAN member states should urgently support cross-border emergency aid for displaced people and ensure accountability for the junta’s heinous crimes ”.
The alleged aid freeze comes amid intense fighting in Karenni state between military and armed groups, including civilian-founded militias in the aftermath of the coup, known as the People’s Defense Forces.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the eastern state due to ongoing fighting. But instead of facilitating life-saving aid to those displaced by the conflict, the military has taken “concrete steps” to deny access to civilians, according to Fortify Rights.
For example, he said, the military arrested three aid workers – two women and one man – near Pan Kan village in Loikaw municipality in May, after five months they are still in detention.
“We are all afraid to work under these conditions, but we do what we can,” a local aid worker who was aware of the arrests told Fortify Rights.
In another incident in June, soldiers also destroyed and burned rice stocks held at a school in Loi Yin Taung Chae village, on the border between Karenni and Shan states.
According to Fortify Rights, aid workers have used the rice stocks to feed some 3,000 displaced people.
In addition, the rights group said the military delayed travel authorization for international aid workers and set up roadblocks, stopping vehicles at roadblocks and confiscating aid supplies.
All of this has led to a lack of basic resources, including clean water and health care at displacement sites.
A man from Karenni told Fortify Rights: “Although we have a hiding place, we still don’t have water… We have enough food available for only a week or two. We feel insecure and scared and we don’t know when the next attack will happen. “
Fortify Rights said similar reports have been reported in other conflict-torn areas of the country, most notably in Chin state and the Sagaing region.
“Lives are at stake and the entire population of Myanmar is in danger,” Wolff said.
Calling for “courageous action,” he said the governments of Thailand, India, China and Bangladesh must immediately authorize humanitarian agencies to provide cross-border aid to Myanmar’s civilians.
Governments must also ban arms sales to Myanmar, impose targeted sanctions on members of the military and deny them access to finance, he said.