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UN human rights office decries beheadings, other violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state

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UN human rights office decries beheadings, other violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state
News

News

UN human rights office decries beheadings, other violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state

2024-05-24 23:17 Last Updated At:23:20

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights office warned Friday of “frightening and disturbing reports” about the impact of new violence in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, pointing to new attacks on Rohingya civilians by the military and an ethnic armed group fighting it.

Spokesperson Liz Throssell of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights cited the burning of the town of Buthidaung, as well as air strikes, reports of shootings at unarmed fleeing villagers, beheadings and disappearances as part of the violence in the northern part of Rakhine in recent weeks.

“We are receiving frightening and disturbing reports from northern Rakhine state in Myanmar of the impacts of the conflict on civilian lives and property," she told a regular briefing in Geneva. “Some of the most serious allegations concern incidents of killing of Rohingya civilians and the burning of their property.”

She said tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in recent days amid fighting in Buthidaung, citing evidence from satellite images, testimonies and online video indicating that the town has been largely burned. A battle begun in neighboring Maungdaw presented “clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence," she added.

Throssell denounced signs of new attacks on Rohingya civilians by Myanmar's military and the Arakan Army, the well-armed military wing of the Rakhine ethnic minority movement that seeks autonomy from the central government.

She pointed to one survivor's account about dozens of dead bodies as he fled Buthidaung, while others spoke of abuse and extortion from the Arakan Army forces.

A statement issued online late Friday by the United League of Arakan, the political arm of the Arakan Army, said civilians in the battle zone had taken refuge in areas controlled by its forces, adding that it "has been doing its utmost to safeguard and care for these Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as valued citizens, irrespective of race or religion.”

However, Rohingya activists have blamed the Arakan Army for most of the current destruction. The ethnic Rakhine nationalists whose cause the armed group espouses have long expressed antipathy towards the Rohingya.

The fighting comes in the context of a civil war in Myanmar that began after the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, leading to an armed resistance opposing military rule.

The pro-democracy fighters are allied with several of the ethnic minority groups that have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades, and have well-trained military forces.

The Arakan Army had a loose cease-fire with the military government until last October, when it joined with two other ethnic armed groups to capture territory in northeastern Myanmar.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on Tuesday said the United States was “deeply troubled” by reports of increased violence in Rakhine state, and called on the military and armed groups to protect civilians and allow humanitarian access.

The Rohingya were the targets of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign incorporating rape and murder that saw an estimated 740,000 flee to neighboring Bangladesh as their villages were burned down by government troops in 2017.

They have lived in Myanmar for generations, but they are widely regarded by many in the country’s Buddhist majority, including members of the Rakhine minority, as having illegally migrated from Bangladesh. The Rohingya face a great amount of prejudice and are generally denied citizenship and other basic rights.

FILE - A Myanmar police officer stands on a road as they provide security at a checkpoint in Buthidaung, Rakhine State, western Myanmar on May 28, 2017. The U.N. human rights office warned Friday May 24, 2024 of “frightening and disturbing reports” about the impact of new violence in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, pointing to new attacks on Rohingya civilians by the military and an ethnic armed group fighting it. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - A Myanmar police officer stands on a road as they provide security at a checkpoint in Buthidaung, Rakhine State, western Myanmar on May 28, 2017. The U.N. human rights office warned Friday May 24, 2024 of “frightening and disturbing reports” about the impact of new violence in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, pointing to new attacks on Rohingya civilians by the military and an ethnic armed group fighting it. (AP Photo, File)

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Demolition of the Parkland classroom building where 17 died in 2018 shooting begins

2024-06-14 22:19 Last Updated At:22:21

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — A large excavator stretched to the top floor of the three-story classroom building where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, making a loud wrenching sound as it punched out a window early Friday as the long-awaited demolition project got underway.

Several victims' family members stood about 100 yards (91 meters) away in the school’s parking lot holding their cellphones to take photos and video of the event.

Nearby, Dylan Persaud, who was a student in 2018, watched as the destruction began.

Persaud had been standing near the freshman building when the shooting started that day. He lost seven long-time friends and his geography teacher, Scott Beigel, in the shooting.

“I’d like to see it gone,“ he said. “It puts a period on the end of the story. They should put a nice memorial there for the 17."

The victims' families were invited to watch the first blows and hammer off a piece themselves if they choose. Officials plan to complete the weekslong project before the school’s 3,300 students return in August from summer vacation. Most were in elementary school when the shooting happened.

The building had been kept up to serve as evidence at the shooter's 2022 penalty trial. Jurors toured its bullet-pocked and blood-stained halls, but spared him a death sentence. He is serving a term of life without parole.

Broward County is not alone in taking down a school building after a mass shooting. In Connecticut, Sandy Hook Elementary School was torn down after the 2012 shooting and replaced. In Texas, officials closed Robb Elementary in Uvalde after the 2022 shooting there and plan to demolish it. Colorado’s Columbine High had its library demolished after the 1999 shooting.

Over the last year, some victims' relatives have led Vice President Kamala Harris, members of Congress, school officials, police officers and about 500 other invitees from around the country on tours of the building. They mostly demonstrated how improved safety measures like bullet-resistant glass in door windows, a better alarm system and doors that lock from the inside could have saved lives.

Those who have taken the tour have called it gut-wrenching as something of a time capsule of Feb. 14, 2018. Textbooks and laptops sat open on desks, and wilted Valentine’s Day flowers, deflated balloons and abandoned teddy bears were scattered amid broken glass. Those objects have now been removed.

U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, an alumnus of the school, said in a statement Friday that the community was forever changed by the shooting.

“I never thought I’d see the high school where I graduated from turned into a war zone. What I’ve seen in that building is truly haunting — windows with bullet holes, homework scattered everywhere, blood in the hallway,” Moskowitz said. “The people of Parkland will no longer have to pass by this horrific reminder of our grief. The families of those innocent lives taken that day will never be able to move on, just move forward.”

The Broward County school board has not decided what the building will be replaced with. Teachers suggested a practice field for the band, Junior ROTC and other groups, connected by a landscaped pathway to a nearby memorial that was erected a few years ago. Several of the students killed belonged to the band or Junior ROTC.

Some parents want the site turned into a memorial.

Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina died that day, said in a statement that the demolition is “a necessary part of moving forward.” He has advocated for school safety programs and a memorial site.

“While we can never erase the pain and the memories, we can create a space that honors their legacy and fosters hope for a safer future,” he said. “That’s why we fight every day to pass meaningful legislation that keeps our family members safe in their school.”

FILE - A security agent walks alongside a barrier surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, July 5, 2023, in Parkland, Fla. Demolition of the building where 17 people died in the 2018 Parkland school shooting is set to begin, as crews will begin tearing down the three-story building at the high school on Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

FILE - A security agent walks alongside a barrier surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, July 5, 2023, in Parkland, Fla. Demolition of the building where 17 people died in the 2018 Parkland school shooting is set to begin, as crews will begin tearing down the three-story building at the high school on Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

FILE - The 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is seen, Oct. 20, 2021. Demolition of the building where 17 people died in the 2018 Parkland school shooting is set to begin, as crews will begin tearing down the three-story building at the high school on Thursday, June 13, 2024. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

FILE - The 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is seen, Oct. 20, 2021. Demolition of the building where 17 people died in the 2018 Parkland school shooting is set to begin, as crews will begin tearing down the three-story building at the high school on Thursday, June 13, 2024. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

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