US calls for end to internet shutdown in Rakhine, Chin states


The United States on Saturday called for an end to a mobile internet shutdown in parts of Rakhine and Chin states, saying the cutoff undermines transparency amid clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army.

The Myanmar government last week took the unprecedented step of ordering mobile phone operators to shut down all internet data across at least eight townships in Rakhine State and one in neighboring Chin State.

The move came as Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, moved against insurgents fighting for more autonomy for the Buddhist Rakhine people.

“Internet service should be restored without delay,” the US State Department said in a statement. 

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“Resumption of service would help facilitate transparency in and accountability for what the government claims are law enforcement actions aimed at preventing further outbreaks of violence in the affected areas,” it added.

In 2017, an army crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine drove 740,000 people into Bangladesh amid allegations of mass atrocities by soldiers. 

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya remain in Rakhine, many of whom are confined to squalid camps. 

Human Rights Watch on Friday said humanitarian groups had reported the shutdown “is creating difficulties for them to carry out their work.”

“WhatsApp is key for international nonprofits operating in Rakhine, and working without it creates additional difficulties,” it said.

The United Nations has warned that the internet shutdown amid Tatmadaw “clearance operations” against the rebels could be “cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population.”

Myanmar has deployed thousands of troops to Rakhine, which has seen more than 35,000 people fleeing their homes to escape heavy artillery fire in the violence that has spilled over into Chin state.

Both sides stand accused of committing abuses and dozens of civilians have been killed in crossfire and shellings, even while taking refuge in monasteries. 

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