Defenceless civilians, including women and children, are victims of the ongoing fighting between the Myanmar military and Buddhist rebels from the state of Rakhine. Hospitals have had to treat the wounded rather than contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
Paletwa (AsiaNews) – More than the coronavirus, people in Chin, a state in western Myanmar, fear bombs. The area is being ravaged by a fighting between the Arakan Army, a mostly Buddhist rebel group, and the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw).
So far, only five people appear to have died in the country from the COVID-19 virus. But according to local sources, cited by Radio Free Asia, 28 Chin civilians have died in violent fighting in March alone.
On 7 April, seven civilians were killed in one of several air attacks in the Paletwa area. The victims include two children. The charred remains of a woman, her arms folded protectively around her three-year-old child, were also found in a house burnt to the ground.
A week earlier, several civilians were wounded in an airstrike in the village of Bawngwa. Previous air attacks on 14 and 15 March killed 21 civilians, including several children.
The military rejected the accusations, calling them baseless.
Hospitals in Chin State, one of the least developed in Myanmar, are poorly equipped. As a result of fighting between the military and Buddhist rebels, the few healthcare staff in the area are forced to devote resources and energy to treat the wounded rather than the pandemic.
There is also the problem of crowding. Villagers who fled bombing and fighting sought refuge in cramped camps for displaced people, where it is almost impossible to maintain social distancing to contain the coronavirus.
In addition, the government has shut down the Internet in Paletwa and in eight municipalities in the nearby state of Rakhine.
The United Nations have called on Myanmar authorities to reactivate mobile connections and to allow immediate access to the area.
Without the Internet, affected communities have no way of accessing the information necessary to deal with the pandemic, and cannot be helped by humanitarian organisations.
The Buddhist rebel group is emanding greater autonomy for Rakhine.
Earlier this month, together with other armed groups in the country, it called for a ceasefire to deal with the pandemic crisis.
The Myanmar military consider the Arakan Army a terrorist organisation, and have rejected the proposal calling it "unrealistic".