Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Myanmar: Reuters journalists must be released

Myanmar: Reuters journalists must be released

The two journalists were arrested in Yangon on December 12 shortly after meeting with their two police sources who handed them documents believed to be related to the ongoing crisis in northern Rakhine State.

"Partners have identified about 20 children separated from their families during the violence but estimate the total number to be at least 100 - most of whom are in parts of northern Rakhine state that they still can not access", Unicef spokesperson Marixie Mercado told journalists in Geneva during a briefing on her visit to Myanmar from December 6 through January 3. So far, over 650,000 people have been forced to flee the country.

More than 655,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine since August in the largest movement of a civilian population in Asia in decades, creating a humanitarian emergency in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh.

But after the United Nations requested Myanmar to allow officials to enter the country so that accusations of human rights abuse could be investigated, Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said that the country would carry its own investigation, refusing to let the United Nations in.

"My sister saw with her own eyes in her village that the Myanmar army and [ethnic] Rakhine extremists set fires and killed people", Saw Hlaing said.

Myanmar's government has strongly denied suggestions of "ethnic cleansing" in Rakhine.

Since the ARSA attacks in August previous year, northern Rakhine State has been ravaged by clearance operations by Myanmar security forces, causing an exodus of more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to nearby Bangladesh.

While the eyes of the world are on Myanmar's northern Rakhine and Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar, more than 60,000 Rohingya children remain almost forgotten, trapped in appalling camps in central Rakhine where the shelters teeter on stilts above garbage and excrement, says Unicef.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was "extremely disappointed" by the charges and again called for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to be released immediately. "We will try to get justice in accordance with the law".

Marriages with Rohingya were banned in 2014 to try to prevent hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Bangladesh from seeking a back door to citizenship.

Smoke rises from a burnt house in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, in September, after retaliatory attacks for Muslim attacks on security posts. Myanmar regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The families of the reporters - both of whom had been working on stories about the military's clearance operation in Rakhine state - say they were lured into a trap.

"This is not an institution that has any credibility", Human Rights Watch's Sifton said of Myanmar's military.

"The Myanmar government has to receive the Rohingya back by checking its immigration data and giving them their full rights", Kyaw Soe Aung said. "The jailing of journalists shows that Aung San Suu Kyi's government, despite its democratic mandate, is following in the repressive footsteps of her military government predecessors".

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