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US calls to end internet blackout in Myanmar's two states


ANI Asia
The United States on Saturday called for an end to mobile internet shutdown in two strife-torn states in Myanmar, saying the restoration would help provide transparency to what the government says are law enforcement actions to avert unrest.
Myanmar's Ministry of Transport and Communications on June 21 took the unprecedented step of ordering mobile phone operators to shut down all internet data across at least eight townships in Rakhine state and one in neighbouring Chin state, Al Jazeera reported.
The move came as the military moved against insurgents fighting for more autonomy for the region's ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
Morgan Ortagus, the spokeswoman for the US State Department, said in a statement that Washington was "deeply concerned" by the data shutdown that has curbed internet-based communications for as many as one million people and called for their restoration "without delay."
"Resumption of service would help facilitate transparency in and accountability for what the government claims are law enforcement actions aimed at preventing further outbreaks of violence in the affected areas," Ortagus added.
In 2017, an army crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state drove 740,000 people into Bangladesh amid allegations of mass atrocities by soldiers.
Since then thousands of Rohingyas have been forced to take shelter in Bangladesh's Cox Bazaar. Most of them have also been displaced and dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed and injured by both indiscriminate and targeted attacks. Others, mainly ethnic Rakhine men, have died while in the military's custody, according to the United Nations.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said humanitarian groups had reported that the shutdown "is creating difficulties for them to carry out their work."
"WhatsApp is key for international nonprofits operating in Rakhine, and working without it creates additional difficulties," it said.
Myanmar has deployed thousands of troops to the western region, where civilians have been fleeing their homes to escape heavy artillery fire in the violence that has spilled over into Chin state.
Both sides stand accused of committing abuses and dozens of civilians have been killed in crossfire and shellings, even while taking refuge in monasteries.

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First Published: Jun 30 2019 | 4:52 AM IST

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