Ra­tions de­liv­ery blocked: WFP

The World Food Pro­gramme in Myan­mar says the govern­ment has re­fused to let them de­liver food ra­tions to thou­sands of peo­ple in trou­ble-hit north­ern Rakhine State due to se­cu­rity con­cerns.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­times.com

SE­NIOR of­fi­cials from the World Food Pro­gramme in Myan­mar have said they are “very, very con­cerned” about the govern­ment’s con­tin­ued re­fusal to let them de­liver food ra­tions to thou­sands of peo­ple in trou­ble-hit north­ern Rakhine State.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion yes­ter­day re­in­stated ra­tion en­ti­tle­ments for over 6000 former IDPs across the state who were re­moved from the ra­tion list in July. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives said the ra­tion re­sump­tion aims to pre­vent an es­ca­la­tion in com­mu­nity ten­sions amid fears that re­cent vi­o­lence in north­ern Rakhine State could spread across the state.

But Arsen Sa­hakyan, WFP part­ner­ships of­fi­cer, said that de­spite re­peated re­quests to govern­ment of­fi­cials, their staff were be­ing de­nied ac­cess to vil­lages across north­ern Rakhine State, where around 70,000 are con­sid­ered en­ti­tled to ra­tions.

“We have asked from town­ship level to Union level. The of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion [for ac­cess be­ing de­nied] is that se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions are on­go­ing,” he said.

Rakhine is one of Myan­mar’s poor­est states and mal­nour­ish­ment is en­demic across both eth­nic Rakhine and Mus­lim mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties. Prob­lems ac­cess­ing food is ex­ac­er­bated for around 1 mil­lion Ro­hingya Mus­lims. The mainly state­less group are a mi­nor­ity across the state – but ac­count for the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple liv­ing in north­ern Rakhine – and are de­nied free­dom of move­ment by au­thor­i­ties, re­strict­ing many from earn­ing a liveli­hood.

Mr Sa­hakyan said about 1200 peo­ple of eth­nic Rakhine ori­gin were known to have re­lo­cated from Maung­daw to Buthi­daung town­ship fol­low­ing the out­break of vi­o­lence on Oc­to­ber 9. He added that lo­cal groups have said they were pro­vid­ing food to those peo­ple.

How­ever, he said he did not have in­for­ma­tion about dis­placed Ro­hingya peo­ple be­cause his staff were not al­lowed to ac­cess af­fected ar­eas.

Mr Sa­hakyan said that while he un­der­stood govern­ment con­cerns about be­ing un­able to guar­an­tee the safety of UN work­ers, WFP staff are used to work­ing un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances and be­ing able to de­liver ser­vices to those in need was a “pri­or­ity”. He added that staff are on standby to move the mo­ment per­mis­sion is granted. How­ever, it re­mained un­clear when that would be.

A state­ment is­sued by the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice fol­low­ing a press con­fer­ence on Oc­to­ber 17 in­di­cated that au­thor­i­ties be­lieve they have al­ready brought the threat of un­ex­pected at­tack in the re­gion un­der con­trol.

The state­ment said, “Tat­madaw­po­lice-force com­bined troops met head-on at­tacks with vi­o­lent at­tack­ers oc­ca­sion­ally dur­ing the area clear­ance op­er­a­tions, but any sep­a­rate armed at­tacks did not oc­curred [sic] in main camps, towns and vil­lages, thus it can be said that the area se­cu­rity is un­der the con­trol.”

The Oc­to­ber de­liv­ery of food aid to north­ern Rakhine had just got­ten un­der way when a series of deadly at­tacks were launched on po­lice sta­tions by peo­ple the govern­ment has de­scribed as Is­lamist ter­ror­ists, prompt­ing a man­hunt by the Tat­madaw that has left at least 30 al­leged as­sailants dead.

Ra­tion de­liv­er­ies to Buthi­daung and Maung­daw town­ships were halted as the vi­o­lence un­folded and WFP staff on the ground are now try­ing to as­cer­tain how many peo­ple re­ceived their en­ti­tle­ment. Mr Sa­hakyan said “a lot of peo­ple” had not got the vi­tal sup­plies.

U Aung Kyaw Zan, state min­is­ter for elec­tric­ity, in­dus­try and transportation, said he was not aware of the WFP en­treaties.

“WFP has not come and ne­go­ti­ated with us about pro­vid­ing food. The state govern­ment is pro­vid­ing food to peo­ple dis­placed in Buthi­daung and who re­main in Maung­daw, send­ing sup­plies from Sit­twe to Buthi­daung via water­way then on­ward to Maung­daw by car,” he said.

On Oc­to­ber 17, the United Na­tions Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs said they also were un­able to give as­sis­tance to those be­lieved to have been dis­placed in the vi­o­lence in north­ern Rakhine.

“The to­tal num­ber of dis­placed peo­ple and their needs have not been as­sessed yet due to a lack of ac­cess. Hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse in­ter­ven­tions are be­ing co­or­di­nated but are ham­pered by move­ment re­stric­tions,” the or­gan­i­sa­tion noted in its weekly up­date.

Ac­cess to med­i­cal ser­vices has also been se­verely cur­tailed, ac­cord­ing to sources on the ground.

The north­ern part of the state has been placed un­der mil­i­tary con­trol and an in­for­ma­tion blackout has ef­fec­tively been im­posed, with in­ter­na­tional ob­servers and foreign jour­nal­ists de­nied per­mis­sion to en­ter the re­gion and even lo­cal jour­nal­ists re­stricted from ac­cess­ing ar­eas where Mus­lim vil­lages are al­leged to have been razed dur­ing the mil­i­tary’s “clear­ance” op­er­a­tions.

Rights groups have also al­leged that ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings are be­ing car­ried out against Mus­lim civil­ians fol­low­ing the lethal at­tacks on the bor­der guard out­posts. But the Tat­madaw, which ad­mit­ted se­cu­rity per­son­nel have killed 30 al­leged at­tack­ers, has in­sisted the use of lethal force was nec­es­sary.

The re­in­state­ment of the ra­tions to former IDPs across the state is ex­pected to last un­til next month, when the ad­vent of har­vest time should re­duce the need for sea­sonal ra­tions.

The con­tro­ver­sial ini­tia­tive to cut sup­plies to dis­placed peo­ple who had since been re­set­tled or re­turned to their home vil­lages was said by WFP at the time to be aimed at eas­ing com­mu­nity ten­sion be­tween former IDPs who were still re­ceiv­ing ra­tions and their neigh­bours who had never been dis­placed and had there­fore never been en­ti­tled to ra­tions. How­ever, a num­ber of ma­jor aid bod­ies con­demned the move for plac­ing peo­ple at risk of fall­ing into food in­se­cu­rity. – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Yee Ywal Myint

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

In­hab­i­tants of the Kha Yay My­ing IDP camp sit out­side in Maung­daw town­ship on March 17, 2016.

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