The U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller Monday expressed great concern about new fighting erupting in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.
Mueller’s remarks, which called for protection and assistance for civilians, were made on her Twitter account on day five of her second official visit to Myanmar. They were accompanied by an infographic showing areas of Myanmar with large numbers of people who have been displaced since fighting between Myanmar’s military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) broke out again in Novermber 2018.
According to the graphic, published by U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 30,000 have been displaced in the last 6 months, joining 128,000 that have been detained in camps in central Rakhine state since 2012.
Mueller said Monday that her request to visit refugees displaced by the fighting was rejected by Myanmar’s government. An official from OCHA told reporters in Sittwe that the request was denied because of security reasons, while adding that a statement would be issued at the end of her visit.
Mueller met privately with Muslim refugees in Dar Paing camp in the Rakhine capital Sittwe earlier in the day. The camp holds Rohingya displaced in 2012 , when violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 others, mostly Rohingya.
“It’s been seven years at the temporary shelter here. All I have expressed is their wishes to return to their original place and live along with others in [a] multi-faith [community],” said Thein Maung, the official in charge of the camp in an interview with RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The situation in the camp has robbed many of the refugees of opportunities they would have otherwise had.
Kyaw Hla, a member of the camp committee said, “We’re lacking so much in education and health opportunities. In the past, when we lived in towns, we were able to go to school along with our Rakhine friends. It was convenient, but here we can’t go to school with Rakhines.”
“I’d like to say that education for our people could be improved only if we cooperate with them,” said Kyaw Hla.
Meanwhile, Nuru Salam, a camp resident, said that he only wants equal rights like others.
On Monday, Mueller privately met with members of the Rakhine state government including Chief Minister Nyi Pu. A participant in the meeting told RFA that the focus of the meeting was on displaced refugees and on closing the camps.
The talks also included a U.N. plan to assist refugees in Rakhine, and the need for Myanmar’s government to allow international aid organizations access to provide assistance freely.
Mueller will visit government officials in Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday.
Ms. Mueller is visiting Myanmar for the second time and she is scheduled to meet with government officials in Naypyidaw tomorrow.
The Myanmar government’s Supportive Committee for Rakhine State’s Peace and Stability has handed over 260 million kyat (almost $170,000) to the local government to be used for assistance to displaced people.
Colonel Phone Tint, Rakhine state’s minister for security and border affairs, detailed how the funds would be used during the acceptance ceremony Sunday, saying, “Some [assistance] will be in cash and some will be for rice. This is for rice. I’m afraid [people] don’t know what it is for. This is for the rice and the 300 kyat each daily for one month.”
But critics said they thought cash disbursements are only helpful in the short term, giving temporary respite, but without solving the problem.
Oo Thar Zan, a resident of Rathedaung, said, “I think it would be more beneficial if they go [observe the situation on] the ground.”
“Discussions should be focused on benefits of the majority, meeting with key people and providing the right types of advice. Cash is only beneficial in the short term,” he said.
The resident said that government efforts to help displaced people are really just to look good politically.
“It appears that the government is looking after the people, but it should look for ways to be more effective.”
Ann Thar Gyi of the Thingaha Kan Latt Rakhita advocacy group said, “We delivered 50 sacks of rice, onions, cooking oil and salt to Kyauktan village, Rathedaung township. But we were not allowed to enter the village and had to return from a bridge near the village. The army didn’t allow us to enter.”
“We sought permission from the Rathedaung township administrator, who said he would never dare to give us a permit,” said Ann Thar Gyi.
The group member questioned policies involving the distribution of aid to displaced people.
“I don’t know why there’s an order in place requiring permission from the town or state level to transport rice, cooking oil and salt for the refugees. People in the village are suffering a lot. They are fearful and starving. There are a total of 500 households and about 120-130 of them have almost nothing to eat,” said Ann Thar Gyi.
A member of the supportive committee and former Rakhine state Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn said it would be better for all involved if the committee had access to the village.
“[We] will consider visiting there in the future. Anyone should be able to visit. But right now I think the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] considers the area as one still requiring inspections,” said the former minister.
He added that there are plans by the committee to visit in the future.
“First the situation needs to stabilize, and we can have discussions later. It’s no use with everyone hating each other when people are dying every day,” he said, adding, “I’d like to say peace will prevail soon.”
Local organizations and many citizens have expressed disappointment with the performance of the Supportive Committee established in mid-March and led by Rakhine politicians and the local government with a majority of personnel being Rakhine ethnics.
Both the Tatmadaw and AA have not released official casualty numbers since the fighting broke out in late 2018, but according to the Rakhine Ethnics Organization (REC), in the past six months more than 30 civilians were killed, 150 were detained and more than 35,000 remain displaced. The organization also said there have been more than 160 skirmishes since fighting began.
Reported Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated Nandar Chann. Written in English by Eugene Whong.