WHO driver transporting COVID-19 swabs from Rakhine patients killed in attack


A Myanmar World Health Organization (WHO) worker was injured and his driver killed when their United Nations-marked vehicle was ambushed as they carried COVID-19 test samples in conflict-ridden Rakhine state, the UN said Tuesday.

The WHO vehicle was fired upon by unknown assailants at 5 p.m. on Monday and the driver U Pyae Sone Win Maung, later died at Minbya Hospital.

The injured man, U Aung Myo Oo, suffered wounds to his right hand. He was receiving medical treatment after being transferred to Sittwe Hospital on Tuesday morning.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted his condolences, adding it was “tragic to lose a life while keeping the world safe.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attack. He called for “a full and transparent investigation” and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, his spokesman said in a statement.

The country’s northwest has been embroiled in an increasingly brutal civil war between Myanmar’s military and Arakan Army rebels demanding more autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine population.

A government-run newspaper said on Tuesday that the two men were transporting swabs taken from suspected COVID-19 patients in Rakhine to Yangon for testing. The paper blamed the local armed group, the Arakan Army (AA), for the attack.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, the AA denied shooting at the WHO vehicle and accused the Tatmadaw of responsibility.

Fighting between the military and the AA intensified in November 2018. Between then and March 31, nearly 160,000 people had been internally displaced by the fighting, according to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress.

Hundreds of people have been killed, injured or detained by both sides (the Myanmar military and the AA) since 2015, when AA troops first began establishing a foothold in western Myanmar.

An International Committee of the Red Cross convoy was attacked near the YarMaung Bridge in June last year. The AA also denied involvement in that incident.

Hostilities have surged in recent weeks since the government labelled the group “terrorists,” which means journalists are unable to reach out to the group without violating the country’s terrorism laws.

Increasing calls for a ceasefire have been ignored as coronavirus fears gripped the country.

Lobby group Fortify Rights on Tuesday demanded an independent investigation into what it condemned as an “outrageous” attack and called for the government to urgently allow humanitarian access to the area. (Source: Irrawaddy)