UN Urges Myanmar To Ensure Rohingya Refugees Return Safely

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at an event in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP



The UN chief on Sunday urged Myanmar to ensure the “safe” return of Rohingya refugees driven out by army operations, a plea made in front of Aung San Suu Kyi more than two years since her country cracked down on the Muslim minority.

Speaking at a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Bangkok — with Myanmar’s de facto head Suu Kyi in the room — Antonio Guterres said he remains “deeply concerned” about the plight of the Rohingya.

Violence in Rakhine state in 2017 forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee, most seeking refuge in overcrowded camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, in what UN investigators say amounted to genocide.

Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens.

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The country says it welcomes back those who agree to a bureaucratic status below full citizenship, and if they agree to live under tight guard after their villages were incinerated.

Guterres said Myanmar is responsible to “ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees”.

Suu Kyi sat in the room expressionless as Guterres spoke.

Only a few hundred Rohingya have returned to Myanmar so far, with many fearing further persecution in the Buddhist-majority country.

The secretary-general also called on Myanmar “to ensure humanitarian actors have full and unfettered access to areas of return”.

Despite repeated entreaties by the UN and endless criticism by rights groups and world leaders, Myanmar has refused to bend in its approach to the Rohingya.

Much of Rakhine remains largely closed to aid workers and journalists, who can only visit on tightly controlled, military-chaperoned trips.

It has launched an extensive and increasingly bloody campaign against Rakhine Buddhists, who are also fighting the central state for greater autonomy.

Suu Kyi has come under fire for failing to use her moral force to defend Rohingya after the 2017 unrest.

The treatment of the minority has shredded her image as an upholder of human rights in the eyes of the Western world.

Myanmar’s army has come under fire for covering up the crackdown, which it blamed on Rohingya “terrorists”.

A leaked ASEAN report earlier this year said the repatriation effort could take a further two years.

Suu Kyi has faced pressure over her country’s treatment of the Rohingya from fellow ASEAN members Malaysia and Indonesia, which are both Muslim-majority.

Over 40 Police, Soldiers Abducted In Myanmar

Armed government troops cross a bomb damaged bridge outside the compound of the Gote Twin police station in Shan State on August 15, 2019/ AFP


Ethnic Rakhine rebels took more than 40 police officers and soldiers hostage in a brazen raid on a ferry on Saturday, Myanmar’s military said, the latest flare-up in the restive western region. 

The military has deployed thousands of troops to try to crush Arakan Army insurgents in the state, where the ethnic group is fighting for more autonomy for Rakhine Buddhists.

But the AA has inflicted a heavy toll through violent raids, kidnappings and improvised explosive devices.

On Saturday morning rebels in concealed positions on a river bank shot at a ferry carrying off-duty police and soldiers north from the state capital, forcing it to dock, military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said.

“More than 10 soldiers from the army, about 30 police and two staff from the prison department” were among the more than 40 passengers forced to disembark before being taken away, he said.

Authorities were using helicopters in their pursuit of the rebels, and had spotted a large contingent crossing a river, he added.

The Arakan Army could not immediately be reached for comment.

The flare-up comes less than two weeks after suspected rebels disguised as a sports team stormed a bus and abducted dozens of firefighters and civilians in Rakhine.

Tens of thousands have been displaced in the state due to the fighting.

Rakhine is the same area where the military drove out more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims in a 2017 campaign UN investigators have called genocide.

Rights groups have accused soldiers of committing war crimes including extrajudicial killings in its fresh campaign against the Arakan Army.

But monitors have also singled out the rebels for alleged abuses.

Both sides have rebuffed accusations as violence has continued in an area largely sealed off to independent media.


600,000 Rohingya Still In Myanmar At ‘Serious Risk Of Genocide’ – UN

Rohingya refugees arrive to attend a ceremony organised to remember the second anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia on August 25, 2019. /AFP


Rohingya Muslims remaining in Myanmar still face a “serious risk of genocide”, UN investigators said Monday, warning the repatriation of a million already driven from the country by the army remains “impossible”.

The fact-finding mission to Myanmar, set up by the Human Rights Council, last year branded the army operations in 2017 as “genocide” and called for the prosecution of top generals, including army chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Some 740,000 Rohingya fled burning villages, bringing accounts of murder, rape and torture over the border to sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh, where survivors of previous waves of persecution already languished.

But in a damning report, the United Nations team said the 600,000 Rohingya still inside Myanmar’s Rakhine state remain in deteriorating and “deplorable” conditions.

“Myanmar continues to harbour genocidal intent and the Rohingya remain under serious risk of genocide,” the investigators said in their final report on Myanmar, due to be presented Tuesday in Geneva.

The country is “denying wrongdoing, destroying evidence, refusing to conduct effective investigations and clearing, razing, confiscating and building on land from which it displaced Rohingya”, it said.

Rohingya were living in “inhumane” conditions, the report continued, adding more than 40,000 structures had been destroyed in the 2017 crackdown.

‘War Crimes’

The mission reiterated calls for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or to set up a tribunal, like for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

It said it had a confidential list of more than 100 names, including officials, suspected of being involved in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, in addition to the six generals named publicly last year.

The report also repeated calls for foreign governments and companies to sever all business ties with the military, urging a “moratorium” on investment and development assistance in Rakhine state.

The maligned Muslim community has long been subjected to tight movement restrictions, making it difficult or impossible to access healthcare, work and education.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and are accused of being illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The army justified the crackdown as a means of rooting out Rohingya insurgents.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal two years ago, but virtually no refugees have returned to date.

The investigators described conditions in Myanmar as “unsafe, unsustainable and impossible” for returns to take place.

Nearly 130,000 Rohingya have been trapped in camps in central Rakhine since a previous bout of violence seven years ago.

Described as “open-air prisons” by Amnesty International, people there remain reliant on humanitarian aid and are rarely granted permission to leave.

Those outside the camps fare little better, needing special authorisation — and often hefty bribes — to leave their village boundaries.

Their homes flattened by bulldozers and land commandeered, refugees in Bangladesh fear they will be subjected to the same, or even worse, treatment if they return to the processing camps built by Myanmar.

The UN team also accused the army of fresh “war crimes”, including forced labour and torture, against civilians in the north of Rakhine state.

The area has once again become embroiled in conflict as the military wages war on the Arakan Army (AA), rebels fighting for the rights of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun rejected the team’s findings, calling them “one-sided”.

“Instead of making biased accusations, they should go onto the ground to see the reality,” Zaw Min Tun told AFP.

The UN investigators have never been granted permission to enter Myanmar or access Rakhine.

The team has handed its report to an investigative panel, which aims to build up evidence to support any future prosecution.

“The scandal of international inaction has to end,” mission expert Christopher Sidoti said.

“Unless the United Nations and the international community take effective action this time, this sad history is destined to be repeated.”

Ambulance Driver Killed In Myanmar As Army Battles Rebels

Armed government troops cross a bomb damaged bridge outside the compound of the Gote Twin police station in Shan State on August 15, 2019/ AFP


A volunteer ambulance driver was killed in Myanmar’s remote northeast as clashes between the army and ethnic insurgents escalated over the weekend, state media reported Sunday.

The area near the Chinese border has been riven by armed conflict for decades, but a fresh round of violence was sparked this week when a coalition of armed groups launched joint attacks against a military academy and police outposts, killing at least 15.

The army claims the attacks were retaliation for massive drug seizures in July, but insurgents say they were responding to military offensives.

An ambulance from a local philanthropy group working around the town of Lashio came under assault by insurgent sniper and artillery fire on Saturday, the state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

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The attack killed 58-year-old driver Tun Myint, his wife Tin Tin Aye told AFP.

“The car was hit when they were trying to turn back from the mission because of intense fighting,” she said.

Video circulating online that could not be independently verified showed an overturned ambulance on the side of a road and workers frantically transferring a limp body to another vehicle.

The Taaung National Liberation Army, one of the members of the Northern Alliance coalition of insurgent groups, said it was unclear who was responsible for the attack.

“As the fighting was intensifying, it is hard to say who to blame,” the TNLA’s Mai Aik Kyaw told AFP.

Myanmar security forces clearing mines near a bridge also found a weapons cache with dozens of explosive devices, detonators and grenades, according to state media.

The US Embassy in Yangon has issued a travel warning for areas near the recent fighting and on Friday urged “restraint” from all sides in the conflict.

The area around Lashio is criss-crossed by a patchwork of ethnic rebel groups fighting the military for more autonomy and control over land and resources.

It is also home to what experts believe to be the world’s largest methamphetamine-producing region, fuelling a complex web of conflict.

Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to secure a peace agreement with insurgent groups when she took office in 2016, but no major progress has been made.

Myanmar Landslide Kills 34, Many More Feared Missing

Workers repair a portion of a damaged road as floodwaters submerged areas of Ye township in Mon State on August 11, 2019. Myanmar troops and emergency responders scrambled to provide aid in flood-hit parts of the country on August 11 after rising waters forced residents to flee by boat and a landslide killed at least 52 people. PHOTO: Ye Aung THU / AFP


The death toll from a landslide triggered by monsoon rains in eastern Myanmar rose to at least 34, an official said Saturday, as emergency workers continued a desperate search through thick mud for scores more feared missing.

Myanmar’s monsoon season brings an annual torrent of heavy downpours, which often leaves tens of thousands displaced from flooded homes and triggering deadly landslides across its more hilly regions.

A huge brown gash on the hillside marked where the deluge of mud flooded onto Ye Pyar Kone village in Mon state on Friday, wiping out 16 homes.

Search and rescue teams worked through the night with excavators and their bare hands trying to find survivors and recover bodies from the deep sludge, continuing through Saturday.

“We found 34 dead, and the search for dead bodies is still ongoing,” local administrator Myo Min Tun told AFP.

So far, 47 people have been left injured while officials believe that more than 80 people could still be missing.

Aerial pictures showed broken remnants of rooftops and other debris from the houses strewn next to trucks knocked over by the force of the mudslide.

The village’s hillside temple was left inundated, leaving the pagoda’s golden spire peeking out from beneath the mud.

Htay Htay Win, 32, told AFP that two of her daughters and five other relatives had still not been found.

She only survived because she had left her home minutes earlier to go look at the flooding nearby.

“I heard a huge noise and turned round to see my home being hit by the mud,” she said, crying.

Rescue workers spent Saturday morning loading bodies wrapped in plastic onto the back of flatbed trucks as worried villagers looked on.

Tin Htay described how he and his family managed to escape when the landslide hit his house and his efforts to rescue others trapped by the mud.

“I dragged a woman and two children from a car but I could not reach two other people, so I had to leave them,” the 30-year-old said.

Emergency crews had to unblock the main highway from Yangon to Mawlamyine, buried under six feet (1.8 metres) of sludge.

Torrential downpours have burst riverbanks across the country while coastal communities have been warned of higher tides.

In the town of Shwegyin in eastern Bago region, residents waded out through waist-deep waters or waited to be rescued by boat after the Sittaung river burst its banks, swallowing entire homes.

Around 89,000 people have been displaced by floods in recent weeks, although many have since been able to return home, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Vietnam has also experienced heavy flooding this week with at least eight people killed in the country’s central highlands and rescuers using a zipline to carry dozens of others to safety.


13 Killed In Myanmar Monsoon Landslide

People look at a hole in a road caused after flooding in Mawlamyein, Mon state on August 9, 2019. A landslide caused by heavy monsoon rains killed at least 13 people and injured dozens more in eastern Myanmar, officials said on August 9, as floods forced tens of thousands across the country to flee their homes.


A landslide caused by heavy monsoon rains killed at least 13 people and injured dozens more in eastern Myanmar, officials said Friday, as floods forced tens of thousands across the country to flee their homes.

The deluge of mud engulfed 16 homes and a monastery early Friday in Thae Pyar Kone village in Mon state, district administrator Myo Min Tun told AFP.

“Thirteen people have so far been found dead and 27 taken to hospital in Mawlamyine (Mon state’s capital),” he told AFP by phone.

Emergency teams are set to continue the search and rescue operation into Friday night in the hunt for more survivors or to retrieve bodies.

Workers were also trying to unblock the main highway from Yangon to Mawlamyine, buried under up to six feet (1.8 metres) of debris, Myo Min Tun added.

Torrential downpours have caused rivers to burst their banks across the country while coastal communities have been warned of looming high tides.

AFP aerial images showed how the town of Shwegyin in eastern Bago region had turned into a vast lake after the Sittaung river burst its banks.

Just the rooftops of some buildings could be seen as residents grabbed all they could before fleeing in rescue boats.

Officials say at least 30,000 people, mainly in Bago region and Mon and Karen states, were seeking refuge from the floods, many in monasteries.

The UN’s Office for Coordinated Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has estimated around 89,000 people have been displaced in recent weeks, although many have since been able to return home.

Vietnam has also experienced heavy flooding this week with at least eight people killed in the country’s central highlands.

Rescuers used a zipline to take dozens of victims to safety in Lam Dong province.

One Killed, Thousands Displaced In Rohingya Camp Landslides

Bangladesh flag


Monsoon-triggered landslides in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh have killed one person and left more than 4,500 homeless, aid officials said Sunday.

About 35 centimetres (14 inches) of rain fell in 72 hours before the landslides started Saturday in camps around Cox’s Bazar that house more than 900,000 of the Muslim minority who fled Myanmar, the UN said.

Twenty-six landslides were reported in makeshift camps built on hills near the border with Myanmar. Trees there have been torn up to build huts and for firewood, leaving the terrain unstable.

UN refugee agency official Areez Rahman said about 30 shanty camps have been affected by the storms. One woman in her 50s died after being hit by a wall that collapsed, he told AFP.

Nur Mohammad, a 40-year-old Rohingya in the main Kutupalong camp, said 12 relatives had fled their tarpaulin-clad huts on the hills to take shelter with him.

“My home is already overcrowded. I’m worried how I will feed all these people,” he said.

Officials said some 5,000 Rohingya on a strip of no man’s land between Bangladesh and Myanmar had also been badly hit by the storms.

“Children are suffering from diarrhoea and we don’t have enough drinking water,” camp leader Dil Mohammad told AFP by phone.

He said most of the camp was knee deep in water as Myanmar authorities had put a dam on a nearby river.

Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said on Sunday emergency preparations were being made.

Monsoon storms killed 170 people in the refugee camp in 2017.

Last year the UN refugee agency moved 30,000 Rohingya out of areas considered at high risk of landslides and floods.

Some 740,000 Rohingya fled a military crackdown in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, joining about 200,000 already living in camps across the border.

Bangladesh wants to relocate up to 100,000 of the refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal but this is opposed by the refugees and international rights groups.


Nurseries Shut As Police Makes Arrest In Myanmar Rape Case


Seven nurseries in Myanmar’s capital remained closed Thursday as police charged a suspect for allegedly raping a two-year-old, a case that has horrified a country where experts say assaults on children are widespread.

The father of the girl spoke to local media about the investigation last week.

He described how his daughter had returned home from her nursery in Naypyidaw in May with injuries that doctors told him were the result of rape.

The government this week temporarily closed the school and several others in the capital.

“Fifteen private schools were shut on Monday but eight have re-opened,” the Department of Social Welfare’s Tin Zaw Moe told AFP.

A judge announced Thursday that a suspect has been arrested and charged with rape.

But an online campaign fueled by rumours over the assault has gained traction for weeks.

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Outraged netizens changed their Facebook profile photos to call for “Justice for Victoria”, a pseudonym given to the girl.

The drive spread to newspaper front pages and even the president’s office, which shared the trending icon on Facebook, saying it had been deluged by demands for action.

A string of celebrities have also added their voices to a movement that is now jumping offline.

Hundreds have signed up to take part in a protest march this Saturday in Yangon to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

Child welfare experts at NGO Terre des Hommes (Lausanne) told AFP cases of child rape are “very common” in low-income townships in Myanmar even if most go unreported.

The stigma and reticence to undertake a lengthy judicial process mean many families prefer to remain silent.

The NGO said it hears of one to two cases every week in just one impoverished Yangon township of 800,000 people.

A new child law is due to be signed soon that would allow police to open cases even if nobody presses charges.


Myanmar Army Kills Six Ethnic Rakhine Detainees As Violence Worsens


Myanmar’s army said it shot dead six detainees in a village school Thursday while holding 275 men on suspicion of being Rakhine rebels, as fears over military impunity grow in the escalating fighting.

Security forces are battling the Arakan Army (AA), a group pushing for more autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

Thousands of troops have been re-deployed to the poor western state, which in 2017 was the scene of the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.

UN investigators say the violence against the Rohingya amounted to “genocide”.\

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More than 30,000 people have been forced from their homes in clashes with the AA since January.

On Tuesday, troops descended on Kyauk Tan village in Rathedaung township, separating men aged between 15 and 50, local and military sources confirmed.

Army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told AFP Thursday that 275 people “were being temporarily held in the village school for investigation”.

Shots were fired in the school early Thursday morning when the detainees tried to “attack the security forces” who had no option but to shoot, Zaw Min Tun said.

“Six were killed, eight were injured and four escaped,” he said, adding warning shots had been first been fired and the wounded had been sent to hospital.

The six bodies were placed “in front of the school in plain view,” villager Aye Maung told AFP by phone.

“They (the remaining detainees) are being held hostage and we’re worried for their safety too,” he said.

By Thursday evening, the village was still completely sealed off, said 57-year-old local resident Tun Aye Thein, adding there were “no AA members” in the village.

“We don’t know what they (the military) will do as they’ve surrounded us,” he said.

Local MP Tin Maung Win tried to enter Wednesday but said he was turned away by the army, adding he was “worried” for local residents.

The north of Rakhine state is in strict lockdown, making any independent verification difficult.

The latest killings come after outrage triggered by the deaths in April of three ethnic Rakhine in military custody — and the secret cremation of their bodies.

The armed forces said two of the deaths were due to “heart failure” but did not give details of the third, cremating all three before their families could see them.

Campaign group Fortify Rights said the deaths show the military continues to act with “total impunity”.

Rakhine is one of Myanmar’s poorest regions and is deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines.


Myanmar’s Supreme Court Rejects Appeal By Reuters Journalists

This combo shows journalists Kyaw Soe Oo (L) and Wa Lone (R) being escorted by police after their sentencing by a court to jail in Yangon on September 3, 2018.  Ye Aung THU / AFP


Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal Tuesday by two Reuters journalists jailed for seven years each on charges linked to their reporting on the Rohingya crisis, one of the defence lawyers confirmed.

Reporters Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, have been behind bars since their arrest in December 2017 under the Official Secrets Act.

The initial conviction in September was upheld by the Yangon High Court in January.

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On Tuesday, the reporters were not at the Supreme Court in the capital Naypyidaw to hear the ruling that once again went against them.

“Our appeal was rejected,” Khin Maung Zaw told AFP. “They upheld the ruling of the lower court.”

Supporters believe thee pair have been punished for investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state in September 2017.

The story earned the team a Pulitzer Prize, one of the top honours in journalism.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted of possessing classified documents relating to security operations in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown against the Rohingya that forced some 740,000 to flee over the border into Bangladesh.

Rights groups and legal experts say the case was riddled with irregularities.

A whistleblowing police officer testified during their trial that his superior had ordered his team to trap the reporters in a sting — testimony the judge chose to ignore.

Rights groups have urged Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to use her influence to secure a pardon for the pair, but she has so far refused to intervene.

“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not commit any crime, nor was there any proof that they did,” Reuters Chief Counsel Gail Gove said in a statement following Tuesday’s ruling.

“Instead, they were victims of a police set-up to silence their truthful reporting. We will continue to do all we can to free them as soon as possible.”


Frenchman Jailed For Flying Drone In Myanmar

File Photo


A French tourist has been sentenced to one month in prison with labour for attempting to fly a drone near Myanmar’s parliament, a court official said Wednesday. 

Arthur Desclaux, 27, was detained on February 7 in the capital and charged under an export-import law which forbids the use of “banned goods” brought in from abroad without obtaining a license.

Myanmar has tight restrictions on drones used in the country, especially around religious and government sites.

Desclaux “confessed” his ignorance about these laws, Judge Sulab Yadanar Oo told the courtroom after the hearing.

“We gave him a light sentence — one-month imprisonment with labour was given to him as he confessed with sincerity that he was guilty,” the judge said.

Speaking outside court after the verdict was delivered, a French embassy official said they were “satisfied that his good faith” was taken into account by the judge in the sentencing.

“That said, a month in prison is still a lot for a simple tourist,” said consul Frederic Inza, adding that the embassy will start making sure tourists know the risks.

“We fear that other people might be in the same situation because the use of drones are becoming more and more common.”

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The harshest sentence for the law could see offenders spending up to three years in prison.

In 2017 journalists Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia were making a documentary for Turkish state broadcaster TRT when they were detained in October 2017 along with Myanmar reporter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin.

They were flying a drone outside the sprawling parliament complex and confessed to the act thinking that they would receive a fine.

Instead, the four were sentenced to two months in prison under Myanmar’s aircraft act.

Students Jailed Over Protest In Myanmar

File Photo


Seven Myanmar students were sentenced to three months in jail with hard labour for burning portraits of officials in protest over campus safety, a student activist said Wednesday, the latest draconian response to rippling discontent with authorities. 

Those jailed were among dozens enacting a mock funeral on December 28 calling for more security at a Mandalay university in central Myanmar after a student’s murder near its campus.

They burned paper coffins and portraits of the city’s chief minister, Myanmar’s security and home affairs ministers, and the head of the university, calling for increased security around the students’ compound.

Three people were arrested during the protest and four others were detained a few days later when they rallied for their peers’ release.

The seven students were each sentenced to a total of three months in prison with hard labour for protesting without permission and arson, student leader Ei Mon Khin told AFP by phone from the court.

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“They will be taken to Obo prison in Mandalay later,” she said.

Time served will be deducted from their sentences, meaning they face a further one and a half months in jail.

This is one of several recent examples of a heavy-handed response to protests by authorities.

On Tuesday police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse a crowd of several thousand in eastern Kayah state, the latest in a string of rallies against a statue of Aung San, father of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He is widely revered by the majority ethnic Bamar (Burmese) population as an independence hero but is viewed critically among many ethnic minority groups, who see him as a symbol of Bamar domination.

Police agreed Tuesday evening to release dozens of arrested protesters in return for a suspension of the rallies while talks take place, state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported, a development welcomed by rights groups.

“The Myanmar authorities have a long history of using excessive and lethal force against peaceful protesters,” said Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith.

“The government needs to break the trend now.”