In almost two years, fighting has left at least 42 children dead and another 135 injured. Some 200,000 civilians have fled the violence, with the coronavirus outbreak making matters worse. For the UN, the Myanmar military routinely attacks civilians in villages. This has led to a situation of insecurity, as well as physical and mental stress.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – The intensifying conflict in the western state of Rakhine between the Myanmar army and the mostly Buddhist Arakan Army (AA), often in inhabited areas, is causing an increasing number of victims, including children, local and international NGOs report.
In northern Rakhine, the death toll has been rising recently as a result of air strikes and shelling by Myanmar forces.
Since December 2018, at least 42 minors under the age of 18 have died, many of them very young children; another 135 have been seriously injured by artillery shells, firearms and landmine explosions.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the young victims are among the approximately 300 civilians killed and 640 wounded in Rakhine State and in Paletwa, a township in neighbouring Chin State.
In a conflict exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, at least 200,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes to escape the fighting. Sources in the Rakhine Ethnics Congress report that the displaced are living in refugee camps or with relatives.
A recent report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, based on interviews with more than 80 victims and eyewitnesses, confirms that the military attacked unarmed civilians in their villages without any provocation by Arakan rebels.
The account also notes an exponential increase in air strikes by planes and helicopters as well as heavy artillery shelling in densely populated areas.
On 11 September, a six-year-old boy was rushed to the Sittwe General Hospital after sustaining serious injuries in an artillery attack.
According to his mother, the boy was hurt while the family was hiding in a bomb shelter to avoid an army patrol looking for rebel fighters near the Mayu River.
On 8 September, government soldiers attacked the village of Nyaung Khat Kan, killing four civilians, including two five-year-olds.
“Children in Rakhine state are insecure, both physically and mentally,” said Oo Khin Thein from Sittwe-based Arakan Youth New Generation Network.
They live in “dire conditions” in both internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and in towns and villages. “They are also emotionally impacted by trauma and fear”.
Intensifying hostilities mean that no one in northern Rakhine is safe, said Oo Tun Win, a lawmaker from Kyauktaw township.
Myanmar’s military has also been accused of attacking schools, places of worship and civilian homes as well as detaining minors to extract confessions from them, including through torture.
Since the outbreak of the hostilities, Pope Francis has also expressed compassion for the suffering of the people of Rakhine, be they Buddhists or Rohingya Muslims.
In 2017, during his visit to Myanmar, the Holy See made a cash donation on behalf of the Catholic Church.
During his stay, Francis told the people of Myanmar that the future of their country must be “peace, peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of every member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity."
Through Caritas Myanmar, the Church is also engaged in local development projects in ten villages inhabited by different ethnic and religious groups.