Rohingya crisis: UN reports surge of deadly fighting in Myanmar

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Members of the Myanmar Red Cross society move a wounded child from a boat to an ambulance that will transport him to Sittwe Hospital, in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, 24 March 2020Image source, EPA
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Children and women are said to be among those injured or killed

At least 32 civilians have been killed in western Myanmar since late last month, the UN says, in fighting between the military and an armed ethnic group.

The UN described the situation as “dire,” and said almost daily fighting was taking place in areas of Rakhine and Chin provinces.

It is unclear whether civilians were targeted or caught in crossfire between security forces and militants.

The Arakan Army militants are ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

Myanmar’s military denies targeting civilians.

Countries including the UK and the US have called for an end to fighting amid the global coronavirus pandemic. More than 80 cases have been reported in Myanmar, along with four deaths.

The Arakan Army declared a month-long ceasefire but this was rejected by the government.

In another development, the authorities in Myanmar say they will free nearly 25,000 inmates as part of a traditional new year prison release.

Among those to be released are hundreds of Rohingya jailed for breaking travel restrictions applied to them because they are not recognised as citizens.

Groups monitoring the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons have been campaigning to get inmates released early to reduce the likelihood of Covid-19 spreading in jail.

That may help explain why this year’s prisoner amnesty is unusually large, exceeding two releases totalling around 15,000 last year, the BBC’s South-East Asia Correspondent, Jonathan Head, reports.