Myanmar, the country still controlled by its former military junta, this week arrested 18 local medical workers in Sittwe, the state capital of Rakhine, the Human Rights Watch advocacy group reported Wednesday.
The workers were arrested Monday after they went to check on Rohingya Muslims injured during clashes in early May. A conflict broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Sittwe and around Maungdaw, a town in neighboring Rakhine State, after Muslim youths attacked a monk and members of his Buddhist group who were taunting them and forcing them to perform community service, HRW said. The incident triggered skirmishes between both communities, which injured 13 Rohingya and 10 members of a Buddhist clan. A statement from the Office of the State Counsellor, Myanmar’s government spokesperson, says a total of 108 people have been killed, 20 of them in Sittwe.
Human Rights Watch said it has no independent proof that the workers were trying to promote the Rakhine Buddhists’ cause, but that photos of them with injured Muslim patients were widely circulated on Myanmar Facebook and Twitter, according to the group.
It reported that a member of the arresting battalion asked to search the group and the observers “accepted because they could not see what was in their way.” When asked for their identities, the medical workers produced ID cards from their government jobs, which were later confiscated, HRW said.
“Six of the arrested medical workers are holding government jobs at the Sittwe General Hospital and five of them work as nurses at a local private hospital,” HRW said in a statement. “These government jobs are unlikely to be permanent or have security clearances.”