US joins ceasefire push after WHO driver transporting COVID samples caught in crossfire

Pyae Sone Win Maung poses with his U.N.-marked vehicle in an undated photo.
Pyae Sone Win Maung poses with his U.N.-marked vehicle in an undated photo.

Attacks continued yesterday in Myanmar as the United States echoed calls for a ceasefire after a man driving COVID-19 samples in a U.N. vehicle was killed earlier this week in Rakhine state.

Pyae Sone Win Maung  was killed Monday and a passenger injured after they got caught between fighting between the military and insurgents as they were transporting test swab samples from Sittwe to Yangon’s National Health Laboratory.

“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,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “It also hinders global efforts to stop the spread of the virus.”

Two children were among three killed yesterday when a state-owned bank was shelled in in Paletwa, Chin State.

The 28-year-old driver died in Rakhine’s Minbya Township, according to the United Nations. Both the government and rebels have denied responsibility and blamed each other for the driver’s death.

“Heart broken to share devastating news: @WHO lost a valued colleague, Pyae Sone Win Maun, who was wounded in a security incident in Myanmar, while transporting #COVID19 surveillance samples,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted Tuesday. “Tragic to lose a life while keeping the world safe. My deepest condolences to the family.”

The escalation between the Burmese military and Arakan Army in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state has left at least dozens of civilians dead this year.

Since the spread of the pandemic in Myanmar, civil society groups have called for a ceasefire but earlier this month a spokesperson for the military’s True News Agency rejected it as unrealistic. The Burmese military, or Tatmadaw, usually increases attacks on rebel groups before the start of the monsoon season, which snares logistics in conflict-torn areas.

Five of Myanmar’s 127 known coronavirus patients are in Chin State, but none has been detected yet in Rakhine, according to health authorities. However, rights groups fear that the coronavirus could spread rapidly in the overcrowded displacement camps housing 130,000 Muslims, most of whom are Rohingya

Journalists are not allowed into conflict areas. The government continues to impose an internet shutdown in several townships in the two states, citing security concerns.

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