Posts Tagged ‘Myanmar’

Thailand seeks U.S. cooperation to stop human trafficking — China is silent on the matter

June 28, 2017

Reuters

Wed Jun 28, 2017 | 1:21am EDT

Thailand on Wednesday defended its efforts to stop human trafficking after the United States kept it on a trafficking watch list and urged U.S. officials to visit the country and see first hand its efforts.

Thailand is a regional center for migrant workers who come from poorer, neighboring countries including Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia in search of jobs.

Rights groups say millions are vulnerable to abuse, including forced labor, in various Thai sectors including the country’s multi billion dollar seafood industry.

The 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report said Thailand reported more investigations, prosecutions and convictions of trafficking cases but it did not demonstrate “increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period”.

It added that Thailand did not “convict officials complicit in trafficking crimes, and official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts”.

“What I want to see is perhaps more cooperation from the U.S. and for them to come to study what we have done so far,” government spokesman Weerachon Sukondhapatipak told Reuters on Wednesday.

“Maybe they will see our progress differently,” he said.

Earlier in the year, Thailand said it hoped to be upgraded from the Tier 2 watch list of nations not meeting minimum standards to end human trafficking.

In 2016 the United States removed Thailand from its list of worst human trafficking offenders, known as Tier 3, following efforts by the military government to fight trafficking in response to international criticism, including through reforms of its anti-trafficking laws.

In 2015 Southeast Asia saw more than 4,000 migrants land on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh following a Thai crackdown on people-smuggling gangs.

Some of those arrested in the crackdown are on trial in Bangkok in what has been called the largest human trafficking trial in Thai history. A verdict is expected next month but rights groups say the arrests were just the tip of an extensive smuggling and trafficking network.

Thailand is Washington’s oldest ally in the region, but ties were strained by a 2014 military coup that ousted an elected civilian government.

Since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, however, relations between the two nations appear to have improved, with Trump inviting Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to visit the White House.

In the 2017 TIP report the State Department placed China on its global list of the worst offenders in human trafficking and forced labor. It upgraded Myanmar to the Tier 2 Watch List.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry)

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The US is blacklisting China as one of the worst human trafficking offenders in the world

It’s a striking departure from Trump’s China policy so far.

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Troops in Myanmar’s Rakhine on High Alert After Killings of Rohingya

June 27, 2017

NAYPYITAW — Troops in Myanmar’s northeastern Rakhine state were put on high alert on Tuesday, police and sources said, after nearly 200 Rakhine Buddhist villagers fled the area after a recent spate of killings and amid fears of fresh attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

    Rakhine Chief Minister Nyi Pu and senior state government officials have “urgently” gone to the area after receiving reports of fleeing villagers, officials said, and border guards in neighboring Bangladesh have also been put on alert.

    Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar border guard posts in October, provoking a military crackdown in which hundreds were killed, more than 1,000 houses burned down and some 75,000 Rohingya Muslims forced to flee to Bangladesh.

    The United Nations has established a fact-finding mission to investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the military during the counter-offensive. The administration of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected the allegations and opposes the mission.

    Fighting in Rakhine has been sporadic since the end of November, but tensions have risen over the past several weeks when village administrators were murdered and troops killed three people while clearing a Rohingya militant camp last week.

    Myanmar’s state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Tuesday a villager in northern Rakhine was “speared” while praying at the weekend, following a separate attack on a village head by a group of “at least 10 masked assailants” who stabbed the village leader to death on June 17.

    “The killings took place over the weekend and the situation is getting increasingly worse. A group of people wearing black masks has killed local administrators close to the government, so the residents are panicking. That’s why we are on high alert,” Rakhine state police chief, Sein Lwin, told Reuters.

    Sein Lwin and a military source operating in the area said security forces expected fresh Rohingya militant attacks on troops after Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, which ended in Myanmar on Monday.

    It was not immediately clear how many people have been killed in recent violence, nor who was behind it, because the military sealed off the area in October, cutting off access to information.

    Kyaw Win, a Rakhine ethnic villager, said nearly 200 villagers from 11 Rakhine ethnic villages had fled to the cities of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe.

    “We don’t dare to live here, there are a lot of rumors spreading among the people that we will be attacked by Muslims,” Kyaw Win told Reuters by telephone.

    Rohingya refugees in makeshift settlements in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar have also organized self-defense patrols to guard against masked men roaming the camps at night in recent weeks, Reuters sources in the camps have said.

    Bangladesh forces near the Myanmar border were also put on high alert after reports of violence at the weekend, said Lieutenant Colonel SM Ariful Islam.

(Additional reporting by Nurul Islam in Cox’s Bazar; Editing by Paul Tait)

Myanmar editor facing trial for posting satirical article on Facebook

June 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of The Voice Daily newspaper, is being prosecuted under the country’s broadly-worded telecommunications law, which forbids uploading false of defamatory information online

YANGON (AFP) – The editor of one of Myanmar’s top newspapers will face trial for defaming the military by posting a satirical article on Facebook, under a controversial law critics say is stifling press freedom.

Last month the army sued the editor in chief of The Voice, Kyaw Min Swe, for uploading a link to an article poking fun at the military’s leaders for sitting around talking while ordinary soldiers are killed.

On Friday a court in Yangon sent him to the city’s notorious Insein prison to await the start of his trial next week.

Hopes had been high that Myanmar’s first freely elected government in generations would usher in a new era of free speech when they took power last year after half a century of military rule.

But defamation prosecutions have soared since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power, with social media satirists, activists and journalists increasingly targeted.

Activists say various defamation laws are being used to stifle free speech and stop the media from criticising the government.

Kyaw Min Swe is being prosecuted under the country’s broadly-worded telecommunications law — known as “66(d)” — which forbids uploading false of defamatory information online.

If convicted he faces up to six months in jail.

The writer of the article, Kyaw Swa Naing, was acquitted by the court on Friday because he did not actually upload his piece.

Speaking to reporters outside court, he said the law “must be amended”.

“Journalists are being harmed very much. Although we do not know what the verdict will be for brother Kyaw Min Swe… he’s now being held in prison,” he added.

Dozens of journalists and free speech activists wearing white armbands and with painted faces protested near the court on Friday, displaying banners emblazoned with “press freedom” in red.

“The government is letting people and organisations sue journalists… using a (law) that should be abolished under the NLD,” protesters Phyo Wai said.

The Voice article at the centre of the case poked fun at a military propaganda film called “Pyi Daung Su Thit Sar” (Faithful to the Union) lauding the army’s victories over armed ethnic groups.

It was released just weeks before the start of the government’s latest round of tense peace negotiations with Myanmar’s myriad insurgent groups, and as some of the heaviest fighting in decades rages in border areas.

Arrests and Clashes as Police Evicts Hundreds From Myanmar Slum

June 12, 2017

YANGON — One policeman was injured and at least five people were arrested in clashes on Monday as authorities in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, demolished a shanty town to clear the land for development.

Some 100 police officers and over 1,000 workers hired by the government razed shacks with chainsaws and sledgehammers as many residents defended their homes, shouting at the demolition crews. The injured policeman was hit in the head by a stone.

Residents say they were not adequately consulted and were not compensated for the loss of their homes.

City authorities and a private company that plans to use the land for new homes, hospitals, parks and a golf course, said the people had occupied the land expecting compensation, knowing it would be confiscated for development.

Just 14 months into the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the forced eviction drew comparisons to methods used by the previous, military-backed government. At that time, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was a defender of forcibly removed squatters.

Among the removed residents was Thein Htay, 49, and his 9-year-old son. They stood beside their blankets, television set, clothes and cutlery scattered on the ground next to a pile of bamboo which a few hours earlier had been their home.

“I can’t afford living in Yangon. I wanted to own a house for the first time in my life, but now everything has been destroyed,” said Thein Htay.

He had bought a piece of land two months ago from a broker who advertised in a state-owned newspaper. He paid over $440 and built his house with bamboo.

“Now I have nowhere to go and I don’t have enough money to move to another place,” he said.

Yu Khine, director at the Yangon government housing department that led the clearance operation, said: “We will not compensate any of them because they are squatters for their own profit. This land belongs to the government.”

The NLD in the past supported people facing forcible evictions, and, after coming to power last year, promised to solve land disputes, but critics say it has made little progress.

Yangon-based analyst for Human Rights Watch, Richard Weir, called on the government to uphold citizens’ rights.

If not, Weir said, “peoples’ rights to adequate housing would be particularly effected and, if not provided adequate consultation or compensation, could leave a large number of people landless and highly vulnerable.”

(Reporting by Thet Oo Mg Mg; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Myanmar Muslims again forced out of Buddhist-majority areas — The Humanitarian disaster Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has been unable to fix

June 8, 2017

Reuters

By Wa Lone and Yimou Lee | YANGON/RAMREE, MYANMAR

When Nwe Nwe Oo left Myanmar’s restive Rakhine State for the commercial hub of Yangon with a $590 government stipend in her pocket, she hoped to escape persecution against minority Muslims and start a new life.

Two months on the 50-year-old widow, who had lived in the rundown camp for displaced people since Rakhine was roiled by communal violence in 2012, has already spent more than half of the money to rent a room of 8 square meters (86 sq ft). With few job prospects and high living costs, she struggles to feed her two daughters in a strange city 500 km (310 miles) from home.

“What do we eat after the money runs out? We are all very worried. I can’t find a job here,” said Nwe Nwe Oo. The family is dependent on her elder daughter who earns $88 a month in a tea factory.

The authorities began shuttering her small camp in the town of Ramree in April, the start of a push by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to close down all such camps in Rakhine within five years, following a recommendation from a commission led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

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Men from a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar October 27, 2016. Picture taken October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Humanitarian experts back the eventual closure of the camps but criticize the way the government has begun the task, which they say sets a worrying precedent for the handling of much larger camps elsewhere in Rakhine where tens of thousands of people still live.

Without more efforts to bring peace and stability to Rakhine, “by closing camps one will simply be transferring the problem to another place,” said Mark Cutts, Head of U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.

Nwe Nwe Oo had little choice in moving to Yangon. The authorities said it was not safe for the 128 Muslim residents of the camp in Ramree, a coastal town in southern Rakhine, to remain in the town, where they had lived before the violence.

“We don’t have enough police force to prevent conflict happening again,” said Min Aung, spokesman of the Rakhine State government. “That’s why we allow them to relocate to other places as they want to.”

OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED

Nwe Nwe Oo’s family belongs to the Kaman Muslim minority, who, unlike the more numerous Rohingya Muslims from northern Rakhine, have Myanmar citizenship and are officially recognized as an ethnic group.

The homes of Kamans in Ramree were burned in the clashes between Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that killed nearly 200 and displaced tens of thousands in the state.

“The new government helped us move to Yangon, but what we hoped for was to return to our homeland. I don’t know whether that will ever happen,” Nwe Nwe Oo told Reuters.

She was among nearly 100 Kaman Muslims from the camp who since April were offered bus fares, air tickets as well as additional modest financial support if they chose to leave the Buddhist-majority area.

The OCHA’s Cutts said the Ramree Kamans told U.N. staff they were not allowed to go back to their original land and were given no viable options other than to leave.

In contrast to the Kaman Muslims, the government in April resettled nearly 300 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, displaced in the same conflict, to 65 houses in the neighboring Kyauk Pyu area, local officials, residents and OCHA officials said. Each family was offered about $294 to settle in their newly-built homes with water, electricity and drainage systems.

Rights groups say that if the Kaman were not allowed to return to their places of origin, there is little prospect of a workable solution for the 120,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims still living in camps in Rakhine.

“If the government can’t facilitate the safe and voluntary return of the Kaman, a group they officially recognize as citizens, what hope is there for the Rohingya?” said Amnesty International researcher Laura Haigh.

NO GOING BACK

Kaman residents said apartheid-like conditions in Ramree, where some bus drivers refuse to carry Muslims, give them little chance of finding a job or a good education for their children in the Buddhist-majority town of 97,000.

“I really love my homeland, but I will face so many problems if I stay,” said 55-year-old Tin Hla, a father-of-four and one of the last remaining residents of the camp, who is planning to move to Yangon this month.

Some former residents, though, remain hopeful that the closure of the camp will improve their daily lives.

Back in the Yangon suburb, another recently arrived Kaman Muslim, 28-year-old Kyaw Soe Moe, anxiously awaited the outcome of a job interview with a construction material company.

While life in the country’s largest city could be tough, the newly-arrived man said it’s an improvement compared with the days in the Ramree camp, where their movements were restricted and job prospects bleak.

“At least there’s freedom here,” he said.

(Reporting by Wa Lone and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Alex Richardson and Antoni Slodkowski)

U.S. says China likely to build more overseas bases, maybe in Pakistan

June 7, 2017

Reuters

Tue Jun 6, 2017 | 7:04pm EDT

By Phil Stewart | WASHINGTON
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A Pentagon report released on Tuesday singled out Pakistan as a possible location for a future Chinese military base, as it forecast that Beijing would likely build more bases overseas after establishing a facility in the African nation of Djibouti.

The prediction came in a 97-page annual report to Congress that saw advances throughout the Chinese military in 2016, funded by robust defense spending that the Pentagon estimated exceeded $180 billion.

That is higher than China’s official defense budget figure of 954.35 billion yuan ($140.4 billion). Chinese leaders, the U.S. report said, appeared committed to defense spending hikes for the “foreseeable future,” even as economic growth slows.

The report repeatedly cited China’s construction of its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, which is already home to a key U.S. military base and is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.

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“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan,” the report said.

Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worries in India that it would become another of China’s ‘string of pearls’ of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

The report did not address India’s potential reaction to a Chinese base in Pakistan.

But Pakistan, the U.S. report noted, was already the primary market in the Asian-Pacific region for Chinese arms exports. That region accounted for $9 billion of the more than $20 billion in Chinese arms exports from 2011 to 2015.

Last year, China signed an agreement with Pakistan for the sale of eight submarines.

QUANTUM SATELLITE, CYBER HACKS

The Pentagon report flagged Chinese military advances, including in space and at sea.

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Quantum Communications Satellite (Image Courtesy http://www.scmp.com)

It cited China’s 2016 launch of the first experimental quantum communications satellite, acknowledging that it represented a “notable advance in cryptography research.”

As in past years, the Pentagon renewed its concerns about cyber spying, saying U.S. government-owned computers were again targeted by China-based intrusions through 2016.

“These and past intrusions focused on accessing networks and extracting information,” the report said.

“China uses its cyber capabilities to support intelligence collection against U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors.”

In a section discussing China’s Navy, the report predicted that China’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft carrier would likely reach initial operating capability in 2020.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Thousands of rodents swarm Myanmar villages

June 6, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Residents of Haingyi island in Myanmar have been battling thousands of rats since the critters scurried into their villages over the weekend

YANGON (AFP) – 

Thousands of rats have descended on villages on an island in southern Myanmar, a local official said on Tuesday, in what some have taken to be an ill omen of impending disaster.

Residents of Haingyi island, one of the larger islands in the Irrawaddy Delta, have been battling the plague of rodents since the critters scurried into their villages over the weekend.

Short of pied pipers, desperate authorities have resorted to paying residents 50 kyat (four US cents) for each dead animal in a bid to contain the outbreak.

“More than 4,000 rats have been killed since they tried to enter the villages,” regional MP Phyo Zaw Shwe told AFP.

“According to traditional beliefs, these animals can predict bad weather. So people here are also worried about floods or earthquakes.”

Studies by Japanese scientists have shown mice and rats are sensitive to electromagnetic waves similar to what often occurs before a major earthquake — although there has been no notable seismic activity in Myanmar the last few days.

Pictures shared on social media showed locals collecting piles of the dead animals.

Phyo Zaw Shwe said some of the bodies had been sent away for testing for disease, but nothing had been found so far.

A villager in Than Cho Tan village told local media residents were killing the animals with “sticks, slingshots, and rocks”.

“This evening, the rats entered our village as well and so far we’ve managed to kill over 800,” he was quoted as saying by News Watch.

Myanmar is no stranger to rodent mobs.

Chin State, in the northwest, has repeatedly been hit by swarms of rats who come to gorge on bamboo fruit, which only appear once every 50-or-so years.

In the latest iteration in 2008, hundreds of people reportedly died when the rats turned from devouring the fruit to eating the crops of the local villagers.

Elephants Killed for their Skin — Funded by powerful “kingpins” in China

June 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Elephant skin has become one of the latest animal products to be touted by some as having medical properties

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s wild elephants are being poached in record numbers with at least 20 killed this year due to surging demand for their hide, WWF said Monday, warning the species is facing a “crisis”.Hunters are increasingly targeting mothers and calves, using poisoned arrows to inflict a slow and agonising death before stripping them of their skin, the wildlife group said.

At least 20 elephant corpses have been found stripped of their skin in two sites the wildlife NGO monitors so far in 2017 — more than are usually killed in a whole year.

Global wildlife law enforcement specialist Rohit Singh said poaching at the Bago Yoma and the Irrawaddy Delta sites, both in the south, had reached crisis point.

“If the current trend continues then you’re going to lose the wild elephant population (in these areas) in the next 1-2 years,” he told AFP.

“The sex ratio was already screwed up so any more pressure on young or breeding females will have serious, serious implications.”

Elephant skin has become one of the latest animal products to be touted by some as having medical properties, although there is no scientific support for those claims.

WWF estimates there are 1,400-2,000 elephants roaming wild in Myanmar, thought to be the second-largest population in Southeast Asia after Thailand.

But their numbers have dwindled as Myanmar has emerged as a key hub in the $20 billion a year global wildlife trafficking trade.

Myanmar’s government said in January that elephant poaching has jumped tenfold in recent years, driven by growing demand for skin and body parts used in traditional medicine.

AFP reporters who visited a wildlife market hidden behind Myanmar’s famed “Golden Rock” pilgrimage site earlier this year saw chunks of the hide on sale for a few dollars a square inch.

Vendors promised that a paste made of its ash and coconut oil would cure eczema, while ground up elephant teeth would smooth and whiten skin.

But experts say the majority of elephant products go to feed neighbouring China’s inexhaustible taste for exotic animals.

Much of the trade runs through the country’s lawless eastern periphery, controlled by a sophisticated criminal network who are thought to be armed and funded by powerful “kingpins” in China.

“It’s organised crime, so we are dealing with organised criminal gangs,” said Singh, adding that WWF was working with local communities and government to try to clamp down on poaching.

New substances fast emerging — Fueling international illegal synthetic drugs markets

June 1, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Heroin and methamphetamine are the product of choice for the region’s narco-gangs, but new substances are fast emerging

BANGKOK (AFP) – 

Southeast Asian drug cartels are diversifying the narcotics they produce, the UN’s crime agency warned Wednesday, with more than 160 new highs hitting the market in the last eight years.

The Golden Triangle — where Laos, southern China, Thailand and Myanmar intersect — is the world’s second largest drug producer after Latin America.

It is notorious for churning out heroin and methamphetamine.

But cartel chemists are now also making new drugs to hook customers on cheap compounds that have yet to be made illegal.

So-called New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are appearing at an alarming rate with 168 new drugs detected since 2008 across 11 Southeast Asian nations and China, according to a report released Wednesday by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“The world of drugs has become much more complex,” Martin Raithelhuber, an expert on synthetic drugs at the UNODC, told AFP.

“We are seeing a lot of new substances around, substances you may not even have heard of but they’re there.”

While heroin and meth remain the product of choice for the region’s narco-gangs, new substances are fast emerging with just three detected hitting the streets in 2008 compared to 80 last year.

The new compounds act as stimulants, hallucinogens, sedatives and opioids and can be taken alone or cut with existing drugs on the market to save costs or intensify the high.

Many NPS are so new that governments struggle to ban them — and when they do chemists can simply tweak the formula to create a fresh compound with similar properties.

With little research on new highs, the risks to the user rise.

One of the most famous new highs in recent years is fentanyl and its many derivatives.

An opioid that is 100 times more powerful than heroin, fentanyl is wreaking havoc across North America.

An estimated 2.6 million Americans are hooked on prescription opioid painkillers with 33,000 fatal overdoses a year.

Raithelhuber said most of the new highs detected in Southeast Asia, many of them fentanyl type substances, were aimed at European or North American consumers.

But some of the new compounds were turning up in drugs for the domestic market.

In Thailand and Malaysia ecstasy tablets are increasingly been cut with chemicals like ketamine, mephedrone and alpha-PVP.

Meanwhile tablets in Indonesia are turning up with PMMA and DOC, new compounds with similar properties to the active ingredient of ecstasy: MDMA.

Rights Group Calls on Myanmar to Probe Alleged Military Abuse After Beatings Video Emerges

May 27, 2017

YANGON — Human rights advocates called on Myanmar to investigate the actions of some of its soldiers on Saturday after footage of people being treated violently by uniformed men went viral.

Myanmar’s armed forces have often been accused of abuses by human rights groups and Western governments during decades of conflict with myriad ethnic armed groups.

The footage, which was posted on Facebook early on Saturday, surfaced as some of the country’s armed rebel groups gathered in the capital, Naypyitaw, for a new round of peace talks with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi after a tough first year in power for her that saw the worst fighting with rebels in years.

The footage appeared to show several members of Myanmar’s military beating and kicking three men as at least six unidentified men were handcuffed and questioned.

The video showed soldiers kicking men in the face on the ground as well as holding a machete to a man’s throat.

Some of the handcuffed men were questioned as to whether they belonged to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group based in Myanmar’s eastern Shan State which recently clashed with the military.

Reuters could not independently verify the identity of the people involved in the video. It was not clear when and where it was taken.

Matthew Smith, founder of campaign group Fortify Rights, identified the uniform as Myanmar army’s.

“The Myanmar authority should immediately investigate this footage, and with urgency the authority should determine the well-being and whereabouts of the men detained in the footage,” he said.

Myanmar State Counselor’s Office and military did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

A coalition of four rebel groups comprising some of Myanmar’s most powerful militias, including the TNLA, staged attacks on security forces in the north of the country in November.

Earlier this year, Myanmar investigated policemen after footage of villagers being treated violently appeared online amid tension over a government crackdown aimed at rooting out suspected insurgents.

(Reporting By Wa Lone and Yimou Lee; Editing by Toby Chopra)