Amid mass protests by ethnic Buddhists, a delegation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) flew into Myanmar’s riot-hit western Rakhine state to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against minority Muslim Rohingyas.
Rakhine state was the scene of clashes last year that left some 200 dead and 140,000 displaced, many of them Rohingya Muslims who were attacked by Buddhist mobs.
The delegation, led by OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, was met by about 3,000 protesters, led by Buddhist monks, in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe as they toured camps housing mostly displaced Rohingya refugees as well as some ethnic Rakhines and met local officials.
The Rohinygas welcomed the delegation as they visited the camps, Rakhine State Spokesman Win Myaing told RFA’s Myanmar Service at the end of the visit.
“When the delegation visited the Thatkepyin refugee camp in Sittwe … some refugees shouted, ‘Rohingya, Rohingya,’” after which the delegation members avoided speaking to the shouters, he said.
Members of the delegation also met with local Rakhine lawmakers and leaders of both Muslim and Buddhist communities to discuss responses to sectarian violence, he said.
During the meetings, the delegation did not broach any request to open an office in the country, Win Mying said, referring to reports that the 57-nation group wanted to establish a wing in Myanmar to channel humanitarian aid to the Rohinyas.
“The OIC delegation met and talked with civil society organizations from both sides,” he said.
“They told us to help victims of the riots from both communities.”
The delegation arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday to meet with lawmakers and discuss responses to sectarian violence that has cast a shadow over much-lauded reforms and caused concerns among the international community.
Buddhists protesters have been staging demonstrations across the country since Tuesday, calling on the OIC not to interfere in the country’s affairs and objecting to any plans for the group to open a domestic office in the country.
Protesters charged that the organization is only interested in providing aid for Rohingyas—which are widely considered in Myanmar to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh—and other Muslims.
Nearly 1,000 people, carrying "No OIC" placards, protested Friday in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon against the group's visit, according to the Irrawaddy online journal.
An additional protest was planned at Yangon International Airport on Saturday when the OIC delegation is scheduled to leave the country.
Lawmakers who met with the delegation Thursday said the group had renewed requests to set up an office in the country.
The group’s visit comes after Myanmar rebuffed a request to allow a delegation to visit the country earlier this year.
Before leaving Myanmar, the delegation will fly to the capital Naypyidaw to meet with either President Thein Sein, or hold a second meeting with Vice President Sai Mauk Kham, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said.
The delegation met Thursday with Sai Mauk Kham, who is also chairman of the Central Committee for Rakhine State Peace, Stability and Development Implementation.
The delegation includes foreign ministers and senior officials from OIC member countries Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Djibouti, and Bangladesh.
At least another 45 people, including non-Rohingya Muslims, have died this year in sporadic outbreaks of sectarian violence both in Rakhine and across the country.
Reported by Thin Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.