Myanmar lodges protest over UNHCR official’s critical Rakhine comments
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.