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Regional parliamentarians renew call for investigation into Rakhine State violence

          Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today renewed their calls for a credible independent investigation into alleged rights violations in Myanmar's Rakhine State following an escalation of violence in the northern part of the state over the weekend.
          "In the past few days, we have heard reports of violence escalating and seen strong evidence of atrocities—reports of more killing of Rohingya civilians and images of burned out villages. Without access, these heartbreaking reports are impossible to verify, but the Myanmar military's long history of human rights violations undermines its credibility as it continues to tell us that these abuses aren't occurring," said Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
          "If the Myanmar government is incapable of preventing further bloodshed or controlling its security forces, then it is the responsibility of the regional and international community to act. The United Nations, as well as ASEAN, should step in to lead an investigation."          
          According to state media, violence escalated on Friday when Myanmar army troops were ambushed by "attackers" in Maungdaw Township and the military responded with an air assault from helicopters. The renewed violence comes more than a month after Myanmar security forces shut down access to northern Rakhine State following an attack on police checkpoints in the area by unknown assailants. 
          On Sunday, Human Rights Watch published new satellite imagery showing large-scale fire-related destruction of Rohingya villages. Unverified video footage of Rohingya casualties have also raised concerns. A "public information team" from the Myanmar military has denied the veracity of the evidence presented, but parliamentarians said this only further demonstrates the need for more access.
          Parliamentarians also called on Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been largely quiet during these events, to intervene.
          "We understand the huge pressures and sensitivity surrounding the issues in Rakhine State and the institutional separation of powers between the military and civilian leadership, but we implore the Nobel laureate and her government to prioritize efforts to address this situation and its root causes before it's too late," Santiago said.
          "ASEAN member states must remember that what happens in Rakhine State affects more than just Myanmar. This violence is not an 'internal affair,' but a situation with clear regional implications—implications which we have sadly seen played out before. In order for ASEAN to live up to the commitments made in its Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons, the region must take action to address root causes that can lead to people becoming trafficking victims, including state-sponsored persecution and violence."