Myan­mar lodges protest over UNHCR of­fi­cial’s crit­i­cal Rakhine com­ments

The Myanmar Times - - News - – Staff writ­ers

A UNHCR rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s com­ments about vi­o­lence in Rakhine State have sent the gov­ern­ment into pub­lic re­la­tions over­drive, with a se­nior cab­i­net mem­ber de­scrib­ing the UN of­fi­cial’s re­marks as “just al­le­ga­tions” and call­ing into ques­tion his pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­leased by the State Coun­sel­lor’s Of­fice yes­ter­day, Myan­mar’s del­e­gate to the UN has lodged an of­fi­cial com­plaint in re­sponse to the UNHCR of­fi­cial’s in­ter­view with the BBC on Novem­ber 24.

U Htin Linn, Myan­mar’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN in Geneva, de­manded an ur­gent meet­ing with the UN refugee agency to protest the re­marks, and on Novem­ber 25 met with UNHCR’s as­sis­tant high com­mis­sioner for pro­tec­tion, Volker Türk, the state­ment said.

John McKis­sick, head of the UN refugee agency in the Bangladeshi bor­der town of Cox’s Bazaar, re­port­edly told the BBC that the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment has an “ul­ti­mate goal of eth­nic cleans­ing of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in Myan­mar”.

In the same re­port, the BBC also quoted deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice U Zaw Htay as say­ing Mr McKis­sick “should main­tain his pro­fes­sion­al­ism and his ethics as a United Na­tions of­fi­cer be­cause his com­ments are just al­le­ga­tions”.

Ac­cord­ing to the State Coun­sel­lor’s Of­fice state­ment, Mr McKis­sick’s in­ter­view “not only breaches the code of con­duct of UN per­son­nel but also un­der­mined the trust and con­fi­dence placed [in], and the co­op­er­a­tion ex­tended to, the UNHCR by Myan­mar”.

Mr Türk of the UNHCR said the BBC re­marks were not the refugee agency’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion but were made only in an in­di­vid­ual ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to the State Coun­sel­lor’s Of­fice state­ment. “The UNHCR would look into the mat­ter and would give ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to the Myan­mar per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s re­quest,” the state­ment said.

The UNHCR could not be reached yes­ter­day, a Sun­day, for a re­sponse to or ver­i­fi­ca­tion of this de­scrip­tion of the meet­ing.

In a sep­a­rate state­ment yes­ter­day, the Myan­mar em­bassy in Lon­don ob­jected to the BBC’s cov­er­age of Rakhine State in the broad­cast “Ro­hingya Mus­lims hated and hounded from Burmese soil”.

“We are very dis­ap­pointed be­cause it was found that the said pro­gram has been based on ru­mours, hearsay and one-sided views which are far from the ac­tual true sit­u­a­tion,” the Lon­don em­bassy’s let­ter to the BBC World Ser­vice said.

“We also strongly dis­agree with this news pro­gram which con­tained al­le­ga­tions that are false and dis­torted in­for­ma­tion,” the Novem­ber 25 let­ter added.

The gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly taken aim at me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions and jour­nal­ists over cov­er­age of Rakhine State. State me­dia has ac­cused mem­bers of the press of in­ten­tion­ally fab­ri­cat­ing in­for­ma­tion “in col­lu­sion with ter­ror­ist groups”.

BBC Myan­mar cor­re­spon­dent Jonah Fisher said on Twit­ter yes­ter­day, “Ev­ery day for the last week I have con­tacted [State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San] Suu Kyi’s of­fice re­quest­ing that she or her spox [spokesper­son] go on cam­era to talk Rakhine. Still noth­ing.”

Since sev­eral bor­der guard of­fi­cers were killed in a pre-dawn at­tack in north­ern Rakhine on Oc­to­ber 9, the Tat­madaw has launched sweeps for the at­tack­ers in “mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion zones”. Ac­cess to the Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity town­ships of Buthi­daung and Maung­daw has since been heav­ily re­stricted, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to in­de­pen­dently ver­ify al­le­ga­tions of abuse.

In the wake of the pre-dawn at­tacks, hun­dreds of sus­pects have been ar­rested and nearly 70 peo­ple killed by se­cu­rity forces, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment tal­lies, though hu­man rights groups fear the num­bers are much higher.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN, at least 30,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed by the vi­o­lence, while Bangladeshi of­fi­cials last week re­ported an in­flux of thou­sands of mostly state­less Mus­lim Ro­hingya over the shared bor­der. Hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, in­clud­ing food ra­tions, has been sus­pended to more than 150,000 peo­ple in the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion zones for more than 40 days.

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