Eight Civilians Die in Myanmar Military Battle With Arakan Army in Chin, Rakhine

Civilian deaths mount amid tit-for-tat fighting and Myanmar army retaliation on villages.

Eight Civilians Die in Myanmar Military Battle With Arakan Army in Chin, Rakhine

At least eight people were killed in volatile western Myanmar, the latest in near daily civilian casualties in a conflict between government soldiers and the rebel Arakan Army that has intensified even as the nation shuts down to fight the coronavirus, local residents said Thursday.

Among those killed in shell blasts and shootings on Wednesday were four civilians in Chin state, including two children, and four in Rakhine state, they said. The battle zone in the 16-month-old conflict straddles the border of the two states, both home to ethnic minorities.

An artillery shell hit the grounds of a branch of government-owned Myanma Economic Bank in Chin state’s Paletwa township, killing a 25-year-old bank clerk, her four-year-old daughter, and the 10-year-old son of another bank employee, locals said. Two other bank employees were injured in the blast.

In a separate incident in Paletwa, a 48-year-old woman who was working in a vegetable garden in Meelatwa village also was killed by an artillery blast, residents said.

Myanmar and Arakan forces had been fighting all day in the mountains near the eastern bank of the Kaladan River, which runs through

Paletwa, before the artillery shell exploded, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported, citing residents.

The Myanmar military’s commander-in-chief’s office said the AA was behind the incident, while AA spokesman Khine Thukha blamed the military’s No. 289 Light Infantry Division.

Soldiers from the division have been targeting civilians in Paletwa township as well as in adjacent northern Rakhine state, he said.

Khine Thukha also said that the AA would cooperate with international organization to expose the “war crimes” committed by government soldiers.

In Rakhine’s Minbya township, eyewitnesses reported seeing Myanmar soldiers deliberately shoot and kill two men on motorbikes at around 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Kyaw Myat Tun, a carpenter, and Than Tun, a motorbike mechanic, both about 31 years old, were residents of Minbya town.

A witness who was near the incident and wish to be anonymous for the security said the military has fired on them after they asked the motorbike riders to stop.

The two men and others residents were still outside because dusk-to-dawn curfew did not begin until 9 p.m., said a witness who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety.

“And nobody noticed that this military brigade had entered the town,” he said. “No one could possibly know. They entered from the north side of town and moved to the south side. These men were riding their motorbikes from the opposite direction. They started firing on them when they encountered them face to face.”

The soldiers ordered the pair to stop their motorbikes before they fired the shots, but the two men may have been too scared to stop immediately and rode on,” the witness said.

“Then they fired their guns and these men were killed on the spot,” he added.

Explosives, detonator 'found'

A statement issued by the Myanmar military said Kyaw Myat Tun and Than Tun were AA operatives dressed in civilian clothes who ignored orders to stop their motorbikes as they headed towards Ramaung Bridge.

When they sped up, soldiers fired warning shots and later found them dead with a plastic bag containing three rod fuses used in explosive devices and detonator nearby, the statement said.

Thein Maung, the father of Kyaw Myat Tun, said his son did not have any ties to the AA.

Local villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the military brigade has been firing artillery daily into areas east of the bridge, where a World Health Organization worker was shot Monday and later died of his wounds.

Residents also said that the soldiers who shot Kyaw Myat Tun and Than Tun had been attacked by AA mines near Khaung Laung and Sanbalay villages as they moved along the main highway earlier on Wednesday.

Following the blasts, the soldiers conducted clearance operations in nearby villages, they said.

Eisu Ali, a 16-year-old Rohinyga from Minbya’s Sanbalay village was killed and two other teenagers were injured by Myanmar Army artillery fire following the second mine attack, according to village elder Kyaw Naing.

The two who were wounded — Nu Khadu, 18, and Rawfee, 14 — were taken to Myaung Bwe Hospital early Thursday, he said.

“The girl was hit by the stray bullet while she was at home,” Kyaw Naing said. “Two young boys were injured by the artillery blast. One of them later died, and another one was seriously injured. They were taking cows to the pastures.”

“The injuries were caused by heavy artillery blasts fired by the government military,” he added. “They encountered a mine attack as they were mobilizing. Afterwards, they moved on and fired into the village.”

Concurrently, San Kyaw, 61, from Nayan village was wounded in the legs during the shooting incident in Minbya, but later died at the hospital, according to a community elder, who said that Myanmar soldiers fired into the village after one of the mine explosions.

RFA tried to reach Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun of the military information committee for comments about the attacks in Paletwa and Minbya, but he was not available.

Scores of civilians have died and tens of thousands have been displaced by fighting between Myanmar and Arakan forces in Rakhine and Chin states since early 2019.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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On the Other Side of the Earth, the Collapsed Empire Seeks a Rudder

Boris convalesces and edges back to work

On the Other Side of the Earth, the Collapsed Empire Seeks a Rudder

By: John Elliott

Diagnosed with coronavirus at the end of last month and hospitalized on April 5 with three nights in intensive care, Boris Johnson is edging back to work as Britain’s prime minister just as criticism of his government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis is escalating.

Although the National Health Service has functioned effectively, there are glaring gaps in the delivery of equipment to hospitals and care home staff, and seriously inadequate testing of individuals.

There are also misleading overstatements by cabinet ministers on targets and achievements. And there is no government-led public debate about how the current shutdown could be eased, though there are warnings that this could take a year or more.

Britain’s record is poor, with deaths reaching 41,000, twice the official figures, according to a Financial Times analysis published on April 22.

The good news is that it looks as though the death rate peaked on April 8. Deaths outside hospitals in the week ending April 10, however, were 75 percent above normal in England and Wales, the highest level for more than 20 years. The figures are high compared with France’s 20,800 and far higher than Germany’s 5,000.

Human trials of a vaccine start at Oxford University on April 23 but the government’s top scientist has warned that an effective one might not be available for a year. Social distancing would be needed until that happened.

The high rate of deaths and the government problems would normally be a political disaster for a prime minister. Boris’s charmed life (Eton to Oxford to Downing Street) however is continuing, despite criticism that he set his government on a muddled path and failed to focus in the early weeks of the crisis.

His mind at the time was on achieving and celebrating Brexit on January 31, and then, during a 12-day break in mid-February, announcing that he was engaged to his partner, Carrie Symonds, and that she was pregnant, while also finalizing his divorce.

Part of a series of emergency hospitals being built across the UK

The Sunday Times published a devastating critique of the government’s failings on April 19 headed, “38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster.” The subhead said “Boris Johnson skipped five [top security committee] meetings on the virus; calls to order protective gear were ignored; and scientists’ warnings fell on deaf ears. Failings in February may have cost thousands of lives.”

The Sunday edition of The Guardian (The Observer) ran a similar story. Two days earlier, the Financial Times nailed the government’s procurement program of ventilators that are still not adequately available. The FT quoted sources saying that the program “was plagued by disjointed thinking that sent volunteer, non-specialist manufacturers down the wrong track, designing products that clinicians and regulators so far have deemed largely unsuitable for treating Covid-19 patients.”

Yet the prime minister, having presided over all this before he became ill, is being welcomed back from convalescence, even though his popularity is waning – 47 percent of respondents in a recent survey said they had a negative opinion of him and a further 17 percent had a “neutral” opinion.

He is needed because the country is desperate for some sense of leadership at the head of a rudderless, divided and squabbling cabinet that he packed after December’s general election with obedient Brexit-loyalists.

The government’s undoubted current star is Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister), one of three cabinet members of Indian origin in the cabinet – his Punjabi grandparents moved to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s.

He is not quite 40 – his birthday is on May 12 – and he has only been an MP since 2015, yet this wealthy former banker and son-in-law of Narayana Murthy, the co-founder of the Infosys IT company, is already being tipped as a future prime minister. Boris appointed him chancellor – to do as he was told by Downing Street – two months ago, replacing Sajid Javid who had refused to kowtow to Boris and Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s disruptive chief adviser.

Since then, and with Boris away ill, Sunak has emerged as one of the most competent of seven cabinet ministers who appear at daily-televised press conferences. He has a modest but forceful way of delivering facts and appealing for co-operation on matters such as social distancing.

He was even given glowing praise by his department’s bureaucrats in an FT profile published on April 2. Currently, he is being praised for handing out billions of pounds, but must know that his popularity will be tested when he has to manage the mountains of debt, curb spending, and raise taxes.

Priti Patel and Sir Philip Rutnam who she effectively ousted from his job as the home ministry’s top civil servant

The non-performer among the Indian-origin trio is Priti Patel, 48, the home minister, who has only appeared once at the tv conferences.

Once a high-profile star (and reportedly a friend of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi), she is being kept out of the front line because her extremely aggressive style of dealing with bureaucrats had put her political future at risk just as the Covid-19 crisis was emerging.

It looked as if she might have to resign until the virus swept negative stories about her from daily media headlines. This week however she is news because Sir Philip Rutnam, the home office’s top bureaucrat who she effectively forced to resign in February, has accused her at an employment tribunal of unfair dismissal and whistleblowing.

The third in the trio and a rising star is Alok Sharma, 52, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills. He is leading the support for companies including small businesses (and also has climate change responsibilities), and appears calm and purposeful at the media events.

All three are close to Boris (as he is generally known) but none is the official stand-in prime minister. The logical choice for that role would be Michael Gove, 52, by far the most experienced senior cabinet member, but he tripped Boris up in an earlier Conservative Party leadership contest and is not trusted.

Dominic Rabb

Instead, Dominic Raab, 46, a controversially blunt and not very respected foreign secretary who has limited ministerial experience, was named first secretary in the last reshuffle. That makes him the de facto deputy, which Boris confirmed – with limited scope – when he asked him to stand in “when necessary.”

The rest of the cabinet do not rate Raab and he has little if any authority at a crucial time.

Other much more capable and experienced politicians have been banished to the parliamentary backbenches, or even expelled from the party, because they opposed Brexit. Boris is surrounded by people who are loyal to him and none of them dares step out of line, except perhaps Gove who must realize that loyalty is essential if he is to survive.

The Sunday Times article explained how the UK, unlike Asian countries, treated the virus from January as a pandemic form of flu without an appropriate vaccine, so it rejected a lockdown that was being introduced in other countries. Instead, it followed the usual flu route of accepting widespread illness that would generate immunity (known as herd immunity). Later, it reversed that policy and introduced the current shutdown, now running for six weeks,

There was a lack of focus on building stocks of testing equipment, with the diagnostics’ trade association saying it was not formally approached for help till April 1. There was a similar failure to build stocks of gowns and masks for health and care workers in February when they were and still are, urgently needed.

The government is now facing heavy criticism about the lack of equipment with Matt Hancock, 41, the supremely self-confident secretary for health, in the firing line.

There has been confusion overproduction of ventilators and he has failed to deliver a target he unwisely set for achieving 100,000 Covid-19 tests a day by the end of this month. Boris last month even talked about 250,000 daily tests. The current figure is around 19,000 even though there is capacity for 40,000, which indicates a double failing on provision of facilities and access to them.

It may seem unfair to criticize the government at a time when every country is facing crises, but Britain has been a leader in medical care, especially pandemics, so it should have been better prepared.

Years of Conservative government austerity with budget cuts, coupled with Boris’s lack of focus and leadership, have led to the failure to perform.

Boris is now convalescing at his official country home, Chequers, about 40 miles outside London. He is not yet chairing meetings, even remotely, though he is contacting people and has had a conversation with his admirer President Donald Trump.

What is sure is that he will give the National Health Service a top priority when the crisis is over because, as he has said, it saved him from possible death during his time in hospital.

But he is not the prime minister for a crisis. He hates detail and likes to appoint competent advisers and ministers, leaving them to get on with their jobs while he deals with broad-brush issues, presentation and public appearances. The question now is whether this crisis, and his own personal experience of Covid-19, will turn him into a focused prime minister who governs. He has the brains, but does he have the stamina?

John Elliott is Asia Sentinel’s South Asia correspondent. He wrote this for the Indian Wire.in. He blogs at Riding the Elephant. 

Source : Asia Sentinel More   

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