There have been concerns raised by some quarters over the suspension of the internet in some townships in Rakhine and Chin States, expressing fears that the internet blackout may endanger the lives of vulnerable civilians facing the COVID-19 pandemic in affected areas.
Due to the intensification of offensive attacks and acts of violence launched by the Arakan Army (AA) insurgents, the Government issued a directive on 20 June 2019 to impose a temporary suspension of internet services in eight townships in Rakhine State and one township in Chin State, with a view to maintaining security and law and order in conflict-affected townships in Rakhine and Chin States. The directive on internet suspension, issued on the basis of Article 77 of the 2013 Telecommunication Law, covers Ponnagyun, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Myebon, Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Paletwa townships. However, voice and SMS services remain available.
The temporary internet suspension measure is necessary to prevent the AA from exploiting mobile internet technologies to detonate IEDs and landmines, to incite hatred among different ethnic groups and to plan attacks or kidnappings of government officials. The crimes committed by the AA include the killings of village and ward administrators with a view to disrupting the government machinery.
The restrictions were lifted in five townships namely Rathedaung, Myebon, Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Paletwa townships in August 2019, when the conflict situation showed signs of improvement.
The resurgence of violence and the intensification of acts of terrorism perpetrated by the AA compelled the authorities to impose temporary restrictions in February 2020. Normal internet access will be restored once the situation stabilizes. In fact as of May 2020, the internet service in Maungdaw Township in Rakhine State has been restored.
Measures are taken to ensure that internet restriction does not hinder the Myanmar Government’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 in line with its stated policy of “Leaving No One Behind”. The Government, in collaboration with domestic and international partners, has been providing COVID-19 related Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials to people living in the affected areas and to all vulnerable communities in conflict areas. Since January 2020, the Government has been disseminating COVID-19 awareness information through free SMS services across the country, including the internet-suspended areas. Moreover, the internet service is available in all major IDP camps located in and around Sittwe Township in Rakhine State.
The Myanmar Red Cross and the ICRC have been particularly effective in supporting the Government’s efforts, and are working with all communities, including the IDPs. The ICRC has developed a wide range of COVID-19 responses in nine townships in Rakhine; Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Pauktaw, Rathedaung and Sittwe. Since mid-May 2020, the Government and the ICRC have formalized an ICRC Action Plan to support the Myanmar Government’s efforts to prevent COVID-19 outbreak in Rakhine.
The Government will continue to take necessary and effective measures to protect the people from terrorist attacks by the AA and to ensure that its COVID-19 pandemic response will benefit everyone, including the vulnerable segments, in accordance with the stated policy of “Leaving No One Behind”.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Nay Pyi Taw
Dated: 8th July 2020