Myanmar says the north of Rakhine state ‘is off limits’
US official’s efforts to see Rohingya plight may be stymied by authorities
A senior US official visiting Myanmar to discuss the Rohingya may not be allowed in to northern Rakhine state, scene of the escalating violence against the Muslim minority.
Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state, is due to visit Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, and also meet government leaders in the national capital, Nay Pyi Taw.
Reuters reported that Tin Maung Swe, the state government secretary of Rakhine, said the northern part of the state was off limits to Mr Murphy.
“Not allowed,” Tin Maung Swe said when asked if Mr Murphy would be going to Maungdaw district, the town at the heart of the military crackdown that has sent 400,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh – a situation the UN condemned as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Mr Murphy will voice the US’s concerns about the Rohingya and press for international aid to be allowed into the region.
As witnesses on the Bangladesh side of the border reported seeing plumes of smoke over Myanmar territory, tens of thousands of people were believed to be in hiding in the Rakhine hills or making their way to the border, having fled their home amid what Amnesty International has deemed a “mass-scale scorched earth campaign” by Myanmar security forces.
International aid organisations have been excluded from the region, leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people without vital deliveries.
Even before the violence, many were on the verge of starvation and reliant on aid.
The clearance operations were launched on August 25 after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked security posts in the region.
The area has been largely cut off to outsiders since the attacks began, making it almost impossible to verify the full extent of the alleged atrocities, but at least 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed, according to the UN special rapporteur for human rights.
Satellite images show entire villages and thousands of properties razed to the ground.
The country’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi – who spent 15 years under military house arrest – has been vilified for ignoring the crisis and pulling out of attending the UN general assembly.
She told US senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a long-time supporter, she was working on getting access for humanitarian organisations, particularly the International Red Cross, which operates under a strict neutrality policy and does not make public observations on what it witnesses while delivering aid. Representatives of the UN and international NGOs fear they will be barred from the region.
Myanmar has refused to co-operate with an official UN investigation into earlier findings that similar military operations after insurgent attacks last October amounted to “crimes against humanity”.
The UN refugee agency said the Rohingya arriving in Bangladesh were suffering “real hardship, and some of the most difficult conditions seen in any current refugee situation”.
A spokesman in Geneva said the UN was appealing for an initial amount of US$30 million (Dh110.2m) for the emergency humanitarian response in Bangladesh until the end of the year.
Meanwhile, from Cox’s Bazar, over the border in Bangladesh, the International organisation for Migration said: “There’s really no sign that this flow of people is going to dry up.”
The growing number of Rohingya refugees is putting great pressure on aid shipments arriving in Bangladesh