The United Nations special human rights investigator for Myanmar says the military may be carrying out “gross human rights violations” in western Myanmar under the cover of an Internet blackout.
Yanghee Lee issued a statement Monday to the U.N. Human Rights Council that mobile Internet service has been blacked out in nine townships across Rakhine and neighboring Chin states, where the military has been battling fighters with the rebel Arakan Army since late last year.
Lee said she heard the military was conducting “clearance operations” in the region, which could be cover for “committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population.”
“I fear for all civilians there,” Lee wrote in her statement.
Telecommunications operator Telenor Group said it was ordered to shutdown mobile service in western Myanmar by the Ministry of Transport and Communications because the Internet was being used to “coordinate illegal activities.”
More than 35,000 people have been displaced in fighting between the military and the Arakan Army, a group made up of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists seeking greater autonomy for the state.
The U.N. has accused Myanmar’s military of carrying out numerous atrocities against Rakhine state’s ethnic Rohingya Muslims “with genocidal intent” in August 2017.
More than 700,000 Rohingyas fled across the border to Bangladesh to escape a scorched earth campaign launched in response to attacks on security posts by Rohingya insurgents.
The atrocities, revealed in interviews with hundreds of displaced Rohingyas, included gang rapes, extrajudicial killings and the torching of entire villages.