World Army shelling in Myanmar blamed for setting 160 homes ablaze
ASEAN leaders hold summit with Myanmar’s general shut out
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Southeast Asian leaders are meeting this week for their annual summit where Myanmar’s top general, whose forces seized power in February and shattered one of Asia’s most phenomenal democratic transitions, has been shut out for refusing to take steps to end the deadly violence. Myanmar defiantly protested the exclusion of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who currently heads its government and ruling military council, from the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Brunei, which currently leads the 10-nation bloc, will host the three-day meetings starting Tuesday by video due to coronavirus concerns.
BANGKOK (AP) — More than 160 buildings in a town in northwestern Myanmar, including at least two churches, have been destroyed by fires caused by shelling by government troops, local media and activists reported Saturday.
The destruction of parts of the town of Thantlang in Chin state appeared to be the most extensive so far in the ongoing struggle between Myanmar’s military-installed government and forces opposed to it. The army seized power in February from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, but has failed to quell the widespread resistance.
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Myanmar's ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi testified in court on Tuesday for the first time since she was overthrown in a military coup. © Peter Dejong/AP Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi in The Hague, Netherlands on December 11, 2019. Her courtroom testimony in the capital Naypyidaw, however, was not publicly available due to a gag order imposed on her legal team by the military junta. The 76-year-old Nobel laureate was testifying at her trial on one of several charges brought against her.
Human rights groups and U.N. experts have recently warned that the government is planning a major offensive in the country’s northwest, including Chin state, along with the regions of Magway and Sagaing. Residents of the rugged area have a reputation for their fierce fighting spirit, and have put up stiff resistance to military rule despite being only lightly armed with single-shot hunting rifles and homemade weapons.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the fire, which started early Friday and burned through the night, according to reports.
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A growing consensus points to civil war soon engulfing Myanmar, with the high potential of state collapse. This could be devastating for the region. Myanmar is resource-rich and a key Chinese oil and gas corridor to the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar's military have a track record for using scorched earth tactics, displacing hundreds of thousands, often forcing victims across the country's frontiers. The genocidal deportation of the Rohingya gives a foretaste of what might soon be expected nationwide.
The humanitarian aid agency Save the Children said its offices were in one of the buildings that “have been deliberately set ablaze.”
“The destruction caused by this violence is utterly senseless. Not only has it damaged one of our offices, it risks destroying the whole town and the homes of thousands of families and children,” said a statement from the London-headquartered agency.
Thantlang had already been largely abandoned due to previous attacks by government soldiers.
Eighteen other houses and a hotel were destroyed by fire set off by another shelling on Sept. 18, and a Christian pastor was shot when he tried to help put out the blaze.
More than 10,000 residents then fled the town, some staying temporarily in nearby villages and others seeking shelter across the border in Mizoram, India. About 20 staff and children in care of an orphanage on the outskirts of the town are believed to be its only remaining residents.
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"In moments of crisis and instability such as this one, we must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those most in need," Richardson said."In moments of crisis and instability such as this one, we must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those most in need," Richardson said.
The Chin Human Rights Organization issued a statement saying the fires in Thantlang had died down by Saturday morning, after as many as 200 houses may have been destroyed.
“Most of the structures on the main street, which has shop stalls and all kinds of businesses, have been destroyed. There is nothing left to salvage,” said the statement, signed by the group’s deputy executive director, Salai Za Uk Ling. “The manner in which the fire was burning indicates that it was not just the incendiary rocket fires but also deliberately torching of houses and structures manually.”
Representatives of the government were not available for comment.
According to the Chinland Defense Force-Thantlang. a local militia fighting the military, a Presbyterian Church and a building housing the Pentecostal Church on the Rock were among the 164 structures it had counted destroyed by fire.
The defense force said the shelling began after fighting broke out when it tried to prevent government soldiers from looting a house in the town.
The statement from the Chin Human Rights Organization expressed concern that what happened may represent just the beginning of a major government offensive known as “Operation Anawrahta.” The government has not acknowledged such a plan.
“The high number of troops being sent to Chin state in recent days and weeks has been truly unprecedented. They have brought with them destruction and death,” said the human rights group. “At least three villages have been torched in Falam Township, and we can only imagine what will happen when the operation is in full throttle. This is why we need urgent action on the part of the U.N. Security Council to help prevent mass atrocities before they happen.”
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