Myanmar’s military-run daily newspaper Myawady has apologized for using a photo of fleeing refugees in Kachin State in an article about elephant tourism on Sunday.
The photo, which was taken less than two weeks ago and shows elephants helping refugees cross a river, appeared on the paper’s front page under the headline “Ngwe Saung Elephant Camp is alive with visitors.” The Ngwe Saung Elephant Camp camp is nearly 1,000 miles away from where the photo was taken.
Sut Seng Htoi, a spokesperson for a Kachin youth organization that has organized protests to demand that the government assist people trapped in conflict zones, was among the many critics who demanded an apology for the use of the photo.
“They misidentified Kachin victims as local visitors happy to visit the elephant camp in Ayeyawady Region. The victims have been trapped by the conflict for over a month now and have to struggle survive. The newspaper’s mistake shows their disrespect for the livelihood of those people. They should apologize on the front page of the newspaper,” said Sut Seng Htoi, according to the Myanmar Times.
On Monday, Myaway put up a Facebook post saying: “This newspaper willingly expresses apology for using the wrong photo.”
However, the apology did not mention the conflict that has driven more than 6,800 people, including the refugees in the photo, from their homes this year. This is just one example of the military’s many efforts to suppress the circulation of information about the Kachin conflict. Earlier this month, the military ordered internally displaced people from Awng Lawt village to vacate their makeshift shelters in Hpakant Township out of concern that the shelters would “damage the townships’ reputations.” This left hundreds of people trapped in a conflict zone.
Authorities have also arrested three ethnic Kachin human rights defenders who organized a press conference on April 30 and a peaceful demonstration on May 1 to call for an end to hostilities and for the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones.
Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith denounced the case yesterday, saying: “The Myanmar military is so sensitive to criticism that the mere mention of their crimes elicits prosecutions. The military is trying to shut down any conversation that might better inform the public about atrocities in Kachin State, and they’re blocking efforts that would lead to accountability.”