Japan protests Myanmar junta’s use of donated ships for military purposes

Japan’s government has issued a formal complaint to Myanmar’s military junta over its misuse of ships donated to assist residents of Rakhine State, according to Japanese media reports.

At a press conference held in Tokyo last Friday, a foreign ministry spokesperson said that the protest had been lodged following confirmation of claims made late last year that the ships had been used for military purposes.

In a report on Wednesday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said that two of three passenger ships donated by Japan in 2017 and 2019 “were used in improper ways, such as for transporting troops and weapons.”

In September of last year, Myanmar Now and other outlets reported that the ships had been seen carrying junta soldiers into combat zones in northern Rakhine State amid clashes with the Arakan Army (AA).

In a statement released the following month, Human Rights Watch  said that internal documents showed that state authorities had been ordered to make the vessels available to the military.

“The Myanmar junta’s misuse of Japanese development aid for military purposes effectively makes Japan a backer of the junta’s military operations,” the group’s Asia program officer, Teppei Kasai, said at the time.

The military’s use of civilian maritime vessels came at a time when it was severely restricting access to major waterways in northern Rakhine State, where trade and travel are heavily dependent on coastal and river routes.

Regime forces were also accused by the AA of deliberately killing local civilians in retaliation for attacks carried out by the ethnic Rakhine armed group.

On November 24 of last year, the two sides agreed to a temporary truce brokered by Yohei Sasakawa, the chair of Japan’s Nippon Foundation.

Speaking on Friday, Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson Hikariko Ono said that efforts would be made to ensure that Japanese aid is not improperly used by Myanmar’s junta in the future.

However, no mention was made of an attack by regime forces on a clinic built with Japanese aid in Magway Region’s Myaing Township last week.

The healthcare facility, in the village of Ma Gyi Kan, reportedly suffered extensive damage from heavy gunfire, and an x-ray machine valued at 50m kyat (nearly $24,000) was completely destroyed, sources there said.

At least 20 people, including medical staff, were detained in the incident.

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