Top officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) and other aid groups have condemned an attack on a WHO team that killed a driver who was helping transport coronavirus tests in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the death of Pyae Sone Win Maun, the driver of a WHO vehicle, as “tragic” and “devastating news”, while United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee said what happened was “unacceptable” and demanded an independent international investigation into the attack.
Pyae Sone Win Maung, died in the western state’s Minbya township following the attack on Monday, the United Nations office in Myanmar said in a Facebook post.
“The WHO colleague was driving a marked UN vehicle from Sittwe to Yangon, transporting COVID19 surveillance samples in support of the Ministry of Health and Sports,” when the vehicle came under fire, it added.
In a joint statement, aid groups including Save the Children and Oxfam said the deadly incident “demonstrates the urgent need for armed actors in Myanmar to lay down their weapons” and heed the call of the United Nations for a global ceasefire.
An official of Myanmar’s health and sports ministry was also injured in the incident.
Earlier, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also issued a statement saying UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemned the attack” and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
The conflict between government troops and armed rebels from the Arakan Army, which wants greater autonomy for Myanmar‘s western region has been rumbling for more than a year but violence has intensified recently.
Both Myanmar‘s army and the Arakan Army denied responsibility for the attack and accused each other.
“Why would the military shoot them?” Major General, a military spokesman, told Reuters news agency when asked about the incident.
“They are working for us, for our country. We have the responsibility for that … Everyone who has a brain knows that. If you are a Myanmar citizen, you shouldn’t ask that.”
The Arakan Army, along with two ethnic armed groups, declared a month-long ceasefire for April, citing the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected at least 121 people and killed at least five in Myanmar.
The army rejected the plea with a spokesman saying a previous truce declared by the government went unheeded by rebel groups.
The driver’s father, Htay Win Maung, said his 28-year-old son had worked for the WHO in Sittwe for three years.
“My heart is broken for him,” he told Reuters by telephone. “I am trying to calm myself thinking he died in serving his duty at the front line. He went there in the midst of fighting when many people didn’t dare to go.”
Meanwhile, aid groups said aside from declaring a ceasefire, the military and rebel groups should also allow “widespread and unfettered access” across Rakhine state and elsewhere in the country for all humanitarian workers.
“Only by working together can we overcome the challenge of COVID-19,” the aid groups said.