The U.S. State Department on Wednesday condemned the fatal attack on a marked U.N. vehicle in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The attack on the World Health Organization vehicle that killed the driver and injured another person occurred Monday as they were transporting swab samples from people possibly infected with the coronavirus to the National Health Laboratory in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar.
“We understand these Burmese nationals were working to fight the COVID-19 pandemic when they came under attack,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “This egregious act undermines efforts to protect vulnerable populations in Burma and again highlights the urgent need for a cessation of fighting in Rakhine state. It also hinders global efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
"We urge Burmese authorities to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. Health and humanitarian workers across the globe must be able to work without threat of violence — now more than ever.”
The WHO driver, Pyae Sone Win Maung, died early Tuesday in Minbya, according to a Myanmar government statement. The township is in a region marked by fighting between the Burmese military and the Arakan Army (AA), which the Myanmar government designated as a terrorist group in March.
Founded in 2009 by Rakhine Buddhists seeking self-governance, AA has been fighting government forces in sporadic skirmishes that began escalating in late 2018 and intensified recently.
A military spokesperson on Tuesday told VOA Burmese that there was no comment on the Monday incident, but the military was in line with the government statement. It blamed AA.
Also on Tuesday, the Myanmar military released a press statement saying a second driver had died and a passenger had been injured when AA fighters attacked a CPS-Private Pesticides Company delivery truck near Ramaung Bridge in Minbya Township, Rakhine state.
Khine Thukha, the AA spokesman, told VOA Burmese on that the AA rejected the military’s accusation that it had been involved in killing the WHO driver. He said that incident took place in an area where the military controlled security.
The military “security checkpoint stationed at Ramaung Bridge allowed the WHO vehicle to pass across the bridge,” he said. “Security soldiers fired at the WHO vehicle while it was driving and it reeled to the roadside. About an hour later, AA troops got some information and found the WHO vehicle to rescue the injured driver and a passenger. Later, they took the injured driver and a passenger to Minbya hospital with the help of villagers.”
The AA spokesman also rejected the military’s accusation of involvement in the death of the pesticide truck driver.
Call for UN probe
U Oo Hla Saw, an Upper House Rakhine lawmaker, told VOA Burmese that he would welcome an investigation by the United Nations of the first killing. He added he would like to see an independent investigation in Rakhine state “as soon as possible to find the culprit in this conflict.”
He said that it was pointless to listen to accusations from both sides. “Instead let an independent investigation be allowed with transparency to find the solution,” he said.
As of Wednesday, Myanmar has 121 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and five recorded deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 figures.