Rights group calls for aid to civilians in Myanmar’s north

In this file photo, soldiers of Kachin Independence Army (KIA) man their position at the front line in Kachin state. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Rights group calls for aid to civilians in Myanmar’s north

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military should ensure humanitarian aid reaches all civilians who have been affected by clashes in the country’s north between the army and an ethnic armed group, an international rights group urged Friday.
Hostilities between Myanmar’s military and guerrillas of the Kachin Independence Army escalated in mid-January to include three townships of Kachin state. The Kachin force is one of the most powerful ethnic militias and has skirmished with the military after a 17-year-old cease-fire pact broke down in 2011. Since then, more than 120,000 people have been displaced in the region along the border with China.
The ongoing crisis in the state has been overshadowed by one in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, where almost 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group have fled to Bangladesh since last August to escape a brutal crackdown by the military and social and economic discrimination.
New York-based Human Rights Watch urged in a statement that Myanmar’s military allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians caught up in the military’s current offensive utilizing heavy weapons and airstrikes.
Government attacks targeting Kachin rebels killed at least five civilians and wounded more than a dozen others in late January, according to activists and a local lawmaker. Aid groups active in Kachin also said that more than 3,000 other civilians — miners of amber and their families — are believed to be trapped in the military offensive in Tanai township.
“The embattled civilian population in Kachin state should not be forgotten amid the dire humanitarian situation facing the Rohingya,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Both the Myanmar army and the KIA should do everything possible to ensure that aid reaches civilians in need.”
The United Nations last week said its agencies and their humanitarian partners are concerned about the safety of civilians in these areas, likewise urging the Myanmar government to guarantee the protection of civilians and safe access to humanitarian assistance for all those affected by the conflict. It said in a statement that it has not been granted access to conflict-affected civilians.
More than 5,000 Kachin civilians marched on Monday in the Kachin capital, Myitkyina, to call for a halt to the military’s offensive and to allow civilians trapped by the fighting to seek refuge.
“The current situation in Kachin state is extremely worrying because it’s not just one or two areas, it’s happening everywhere,” said Gum Sha Aung of the Joint Strategy Team, a coalition of local groups seeking to coordinate humanitarian activities in northern Myanmar. “The military consistently hinder humanitarian assistance such as food transportation in the region, which is an outright violation against the international humanitarian law.”


Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Updated 24 May 2018
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Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

BUNNIK, Netherlands: Prosecutors investigating the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 said on Thursday they had identified the missile used to shoot down the plane as coming from a Russian military unit.
The airliner was hit by a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014, with 298 people on board, two-thirds of them Dutch, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists. All aboard died.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the crime squad of the Netherlands’ national police, said the missile had been fired from a carrier belonging to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade.
“All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces,” he told a televised news conference.
Russia has denied involvement in the incident. There was no immediate comment from Moscow on the investigative development.
In an interim update on their investigation, prosecutors said they had trimmed their list of possible suspects from more than a hundred to several dozen.
“We have a lot of proof and a lot of evidence, but we are not finished,” said chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
He said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments. The question of whether members of the 53rd Brigade were actively involved in the downing of the plane remains under investigation, he said.
Westerbeke called on witnesses, including members of the public, to help identify members of the crew that was operating the missile system. He also asked for tip-offs in determining what their orders were and in identifying the officials in charge of the brigade.
A Joint Investigation Team, drawn from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, is gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution in the downing of the plane.
The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.
Dutch prosecutors said in September 2016 that 100 “persons of interest” had been identified in the investigation, while Australian and Malaysian officials had initially expressed hope that suspects’ names would be made public in 2017.
Eventual suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands after Russia used its veto to block a UN Security Council resolution seeking to create an international tribunal to oversee criminal complaints stemming from the incident.