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Insurgents are disguising themselves as refugees and using local people as human shields at displacement camps in Burma, Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing told a Red Cross delegation on Friday.
“Insurgents have opened their own so-called IDP [internally displaced person] camps, where they use the local people as human shields,” said the highest ranking member of Burma’s military, speaking at a briefing in Naypyidaw with a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) led by its president, Peter Maurer.
“From our army’s experiences, we see all the dishonest acts by insurgents,” he said, as reported by the Office of the Ministry of Defence. “Those acts include: opening so-called IDP camps just to lobby for humanitarian aid; and holding people there against their will as human shields.
“On the other hand, some IDPs want to remain in the camps for their own reasons. That’s why the handling of IDP issues needs to be treated carefully.”
He reportedly added: “Reducing socio-economic hardships is the best possible way to restore national peace.”
According to the Ministry of Defence statement, Min Aung Hlaing went on to advise the ICRC about the logistics in setting up aid and healthcare operations in the conflict zones in the north and northeast of the country.
“ICRC needs the local authority’s approval and must confirm security arrangements when conducting activities in conflict areas. The insurgents, naturally, are weak when it comes to discipline,” he is reported to have said, pointing to an incident in 2015 in which a volunteer for the Myanmar Red Cross Society was shot dead while traveling with an aid convoy in the country’s northeast.
He added: “If the other relevant governmental bodies agree, the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] will assist ICRC’s activities in these conflict areas.”
Regarding Arakan State, where IDP camps house more than 100,000 displaced persons, the majority being Rohingya Muslims, Burma’s army chief reportedly said, “The Tatmadaw does not object to ICRC’s humanitarian acts of providing assistance.”
At a press conference last week in Rangoon, the ICRC’s Maurer called on the Burmese government to ensure that international aid agency be granted access to all conflict areas around the country.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously described the slain aid worker in northeastern Burma as a member of the ICRC. He was in fact a volunteer for the Myanmar Red Cross Society. DVB regrets the error.