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Myanmar junta accused of arresting doctors treating COVID-19 patients

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This picture taken on July 14, 2021 shows people waiting to fill up empty oxygen canisters outside a factory in Yangon, amid a surge in the number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases. (Photo by AFP)

Myanmar's military junta has arrested several doctors treating COVID-19 patients independently as the health system struggles to cope with a record wave of infections amid ongoing turmoil across the southeast Asian country. 

Media reports on Thursday said that at least nine volunteer doctors offering tele-medicine and other services had been detained by the military in Myanmar's two largest cities - Yangon and Mandalay - in the past few weeks.

A doctor told media outlets that four of his colleagues from the "Medical Family - Mandalay group", had been arrested.

"We have been giving medical treatment to hundreds of patients per day," the doctor was quoted as saying.

Witnesses said they had seen some senior doctors from the group handcuffed and bruised before being led away on July 16.  

The group was set up to advise virus sufferers over the telephone. Some members participating in the campaign had offered free medical advice, and visited the sick at home in some cases.

Media reports from Yangon said some doctors from a COVID-19 response group were arrested after being lured to a home by soldiers pretending to need treatment.

The National Unity Government set up as a shadow body by army opponents has also accused security forces of taking oxygen cylinders, protective wear and medicine for their own use during raids.

Yanghee Lee, a former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has accused the junta of "weaponizing COVID-19 for its own political gain."

The consequent shortage of staff at hospitals and clinics has added to public mistrust of the junta.

The junta has denied reports that security forces had arrested doctors during a follow up raid on their offices in the largest city of Yangon and elsewhere.  

The military has arrested medical staff previously for their conspicuous support for the civil disobedience movement.

Scores of doctors have been arrested for their prominent role in a civil disobedience movement.

Advocacy groups say hundreds of doctors who joined the anti-junta campaign have been charged with spreading false news.

A junta spokesman urged people last week to cooperate with the government in order to overcome the epidemic.

On Thursday, Myanmar registered over 6,000 new COVID-19 infections after reporting 286 deaths a day earlier, both record highs.

Turmoil has gripped Myanmar since de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) was ousted on February 1 through a military coup, with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement.

The junta seized power over alleged fraud in general elections won by Suu Kyi's party in November 2020. The allegations of fraud have been dismissed by the former electoral commission.

Since the coup, over 900 people have been killed. About 200,000 have also been forced to flee their homes, according to UN figures.

Thousands of people have fled clashes in the states of Kachin and Shan, which have established ethnic minority armies.

UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet earlier this month told the council that the situation in Myanmar had "evolved from a political crisis to a multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe."

Myanmar was ruled by the military from 1962 until 2011 when Suu Kyi ended the junta rule.


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