UN Envoy Visits Rakhine Refugees

A UN official calls on leaders in Burma’s Rakhine state to accept ethnic differences for peace.

nambiar-rahkine-305.jpg Vijay Nambiar (C) arrives at the airport in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state, June 14, 2012.

The U.N.’s special advisor on Burma on Wednesday visited refugee camps for those displaced by communal violence in restive Rakhine state, stressing the need to ensure the safety of Muslim Rohingyas who rights groups say bore the brunt of the violence.

Vijay Nambiar, Special Advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, traveled to camps in Rakhine’s towns Buthidaung and Maungdaw and capital Sittwe together with the Burmese Minister of Immigration and Population Khin Ye, according to a community leader.

The camps in western Burma’s Rakhine housed more than 100,000 people who fled fighting between Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines in June and October, which left a total of around 180 killed, according to official figures.

After visiting the refugee camps, Nambiar held a special meeting with Aung Min, a minister from President Thein Sein’s office, Rakhine State Chief Minister Hla Maung Tin, and Kyaw Yin Hlaing, secretary of a commission set up by the Burmese government to investigate the violence in Rakhine.

The special meeting also included five Rakhine community leaders and five representatives of a Rohingya community living around the area of Sittwe airport.

Than Tun, a leader of the ethnic Rakhine community, told RFA’s Burmese Service that Nambiar had asked members of both ethnicities to be respectful of each other to avoid further violence.

“Vijay Nambiar said that we have a responsibility to allow for their [Rohingya] lifestyle, survival and their safety under human rights obligations, and stressed that it is important not to abuse ethnic rights as well,” Than Tun said.

“Rakhine people don’t want other people or the media to use the name ‘Rohingya.’ He said, ‘Please be careful of any usage [of the term] and try to live peacefully between your two groups.”

Rakhines commonly refer to Rohingyas as “Bengalis,” using the local term for illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, even though many Rohingyas have lived in Burma for generations.

Nambiar also met with Rakhine state Chief Minister Hla Maung Tin during his visit, as well as with refugees from Pauktaw and Myebon townships—two areas that were hit by the recent violence.

International rights group say the Rohingyas, who number around 800,000 in Rakhine state, bore the brunt of the June and October violence and make up the majority of those displaced in the clashes, though Rakhines were also killed and made homeless.

Last month, the U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on rights concerns, adopted a resolution raising the sensitive issue of citizenship for the stateless Rohingyas and calling on the Burmese government to address human rights abuses on the group.

Burma’s mission to the U.N. told the committee it would accept the resolution but rejected the characterization of the Rohingya as one of Burma’s ethnic groups.

Call for mediation

Meanwhile, a peace negotiator in northern Burma’s Kachin state on Wednesday called for U.N. “intervention” to address ongoing violence between ethnic rebels and Burmese government troops in the region.

Yup Zaw Hkaung, a local businessman who has been attempting to mediate with the military on behalf of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), said recent clashes were a result of a “loss of trust” between the two sides and asked the U.N. to help reestablish negotiations.

The KIO is the political wing of the Kachin rebel group seeking greater autonomy in the state.

“If we can build trust between the KIO and the [Burmese] military, peaceful discussions will succeed and we can continue to work towards our goal of a ceasefire,” he said.

“The Kachin peace mediator group is calling for U.N. intervention to resolve the violence in Kachin state.”

Yup Zaw Hkaung said that both sides have attacked one another and claimed it was an act of defense, but that “the main reason [for the fighting] is that both sides have lost trust.”

“It’s a vicious circle,” he said.

Despite an order from President Thein Sein to halt all military offensives against ethnic rebels, skirmishes between the KIO and the Burmese military has occurred almost daily in recent weeks.

According to the U.N., some 75,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since a 17-year ceasefire agreement was shattered in June of last year, rekindling a decades-old conflict.

Several rounds of talks between the Burmese government and the KIO since November have yielded little outcome, although Thein Sein’s new reformist government has signed peace agreements with 10 other armed ethnic groups as part of a plan for national reconciliation since taking power in March last year.

On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell visited camps for refugees in government-controlled areas of Kachin state, but voiced concerns over lack of access to camps in areas controlled by the rebels, where Burma has banned foreign aid workers.

Earlier this month, the U.N.’s head of humanitarian affairs Valerie Amos appealed to Burma to allow the U.N. access to civilians affected by the strife in KIO-controlled areas. She said the U.N. had been unable to provide assistance to almost 40,000 people in the areas for nearly six months.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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