Reuters reporters charged in Myanmar with obtaining state secrets

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Reuters journalists must be released The Myanmar authorities must immediately release two journalists from the Reuters news agency who have been arbitrarily detained for investigating military abuses in Myanmar's Rakhine State, Amnesty International said.

"Partners have identified about 20 children separated from their families during the violence but estimate the total number to be at least 100 - most of whom are in parts of northern Rakhine state that they still can not access", Unicef spokesperson Marixie Mercado told journalists in Geneva during a briefing on her visit to Myanmar from December 6 through January 3.

The plight of the Rohingya has received global attention and led to the widespread condemnation of Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was previously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Myanmar reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were formally indicted by prosecutors in Yangon on Wednesday for breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which could sentence them to a maximum of 14 years in prison, their lawyer said.

While the United States and the United Nations have called the campaign against the Rohingya ethnic cleansing, the Myanmar government has blocked independent investigators and journalists from the epicenter of violence, making it hard to gather proof of atrocities.

Myanmar border guard police force patrol near the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border outside Maungdaw, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, November 12, 2017.

Myanmar is in the process of issuing the Rohingya national verification cards as part of a citizenship eligibility process for undocumented people in Rakhine. "We hear of high levels of toxic fear in children from both Rohingya and Rakhine communities", she said.

"The charges filed against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo represent a giant step backward for press freedom in Myanmar", Shawn Crispin of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement Wednesday.

Myanmar Journalists Arrest
Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo in handcuffs talks to supporters as he leaves court Wednesday

Distraught relatives of Kyaw Soe Oo wailed and reached out to grasp him as the two journalists were driven away from a throng of reporters after the hearing. "We want to ask whether this law was issued just for Muslims or all people in Myanmar".

He suggested that the government accept the Rohingya refugees back, help them resettle because most of their villages and homes were burned during the crackdown, and give them back their rights.

Smoke rises from a burnt house in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, in September, after retaliatory attacks for Muslim attacks on security posts.

Mercado called the inability of United Nations agencies to access vulnerable Rohingya children who remain in northern Myanmar "troubling", saying that while "the eyes of the world" are focused on the 655,000 refugees who have fled across the border into Bangladesh, 60,000 Rohingya children remain "almost forgotten", trapped in squalid camps in central Rakhine.

The country's army chief admitted that 10 Rohingya Muslims were murdered by security forces.

The military commander recently said it would be for the Buddhist residents of Myanmar to decide when, and how many, Rohingya returned.

Kyaw Soe Aung added that the Myanmar government must also implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, a body led by former United Nations head Kofi Annan that called for reviews of the country's Citizenship Law and for an end to restrictions on the Rohingya to prevent further violence in the region.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made no public comment on the detention of the two Reuters reporters.

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