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Myanmar: Civilians at risk in northern Shan State fighting

The Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups must ensure the protection of civilians and provision of aid as violence in northern Shan State escalates, Amnesty International urged today [3 September].

On 15 August 2019, three members of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of ethnic armed groups operating in northern Shan State, staged a series of indiscriminate attacks on Myanmar military installations and other locations, killing or injuring soldiers, police officers, and civilians. Since then, northern Shan State has seen an intensification of fighting between the Myanmar military – also known as the Tatmadaw – and ethnic armed groups. The renewed fighting comes despite a unilateral ceasefire announced by the Myanmar military on 21 December 2018, which was recently extended until 21 September 2019. Amnesty and others have documented ongoing violations and abuses during this time.

Amnesty is deeply concerned about mounting reports of civilian causalities, including the killing of five people – three of them children – on 31 August 2019 by suspected mortar fire. While it is difficult to confirm which side fired the shells, the killing likely constitutes a war crime. The organisation calls on all parties to the conflict to immediately end all attacks targeting civilians and indiscriminate attacks, commit to protecting civilians, allow safe passage for those fleeing the fighting, and ensure full, safe and unfettered access for humanitarian workers.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 8,000 people have been internally displaced by the latest fighting. Despite this, the Myanmar authorities – both civilian and military – continue to restrict humanitarian access in northern Shan State. Meanwhile, humanitarian actors report that ambushes and attacks on vehicles by ethnic armed groups are preventing them from accessing some areas and assisting people in need.

Under international humanitarian law, all parties to the armed conflict have an obligation to allow and facilitate delivery of impartial humanitarian assistance for civilians in need. Blocking such aid is a violation of international humanitarian law Amnesty calls on all sides to ensure free and unimpeded access for humanitarian organisations delivering aid and emergency assistance to all civilians who need it without discrimination.

Amnesty also calls on all parties to take immediate action to secure roads so that humanitarian organisations can provide aid and emergency assistance – including life-saving medical treatment.

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