Source from Irrawaddy news, 3 Aug 2012
Protesters hold banners outside the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Rangoon on Aug 3, 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Burmese Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham traveled to the predominantly Muslim township of Maungdaw in northern Arakan State on Friday amid growing international criticism of the government’s handling of recent communal conflicts between Arakanese Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas.
The purpose of the trip is to assess the situation in the area two months after the worst violence in decades broke out there in early June, according to Win Myaing, a spokesperson for the Arakan State government.
During the two-day trip, the vice-president and government ministers will observe conditions at camps set up for the tens of thousands of people from both communities who were displaced by the riots. In addition to Maungdaw, they are expected to visited Kyaukphyu and the state capital Sittwe.
The visit comes as international rights groups and foreign governments, especially in Muslim countries, have accused the government of siding with Buddhists in the clashes. Earlier this week, US-based Human Rights Watch released a report alleging that government troops targeted Rohingyas during the crackdown on the violence.
In a statement released on July 27, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also claimed that Muslim communities in Arakan State were being targeted by security forces.
However, the state government denied these charges, insisting that there was no discrimination against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority of about 800,000 people living mostly in townships near the Bangladeshi border.
“If they [foreign critics] come here, they will see that we have treated everyone equally,” said Win Myaing, adding that the state government plans to propose “security measures” to address the accusations during the vice-president’s visit.
While groups such as Amnesty International have said that hundreds of Rohingyas have been killed, raped, beaten and arbitrarily arrested since Burma declared a state of emergency in Arakan State in June, official figures put the number of casualties on both sides at 77 dead and 109 injured.
In addition, 4,822 houses, 17 mosques, 15 monasteries and three schools were destroyed, according to figures released by the government. In a report on Monday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar said that some 14,328 Arakanese Buddhists and 30,740 Rohingya Muslims have been affected and are currently living in 89 temporary camps.
Meanwhile, some Arakanese have complained that the international community has been one-sided in its expressions of concern. They noted, for instance, that during his visit to Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships on Tuesday, UN human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana spoke only to Rohingyas who had been displaced by the conflict.
“It isn’t fair to focus only on the suffering of one side,” said Ven Manisara, a Buddhist abbot who heads a local aid group in Maungdaw. “Our people have also suffered a lot.”
This perceived imbalance—and deep-seated resentment of the Rohingya, who are seen by many in Arakan State as interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh—has been a boon to the government of President Thein Sein, who last month rejected international calls to accept the Rohingya as citizens.
At a protest in front of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Rangoon on Friday, demonstrators held banners supporting Thein Sein’s refusal to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, Sai Mauk Kham’s visit to Arakan State comes as Bangladesh, which has refused to allow a fresh influx of Rohingyas into the country in the wake of the recent violence, has ordered international charities to stop providing aid to those who make it across the border.
Three aid groups—France’s Medecins sans Frontieres and Action Contre la Faim and Britain’s Muslim Aid UK—have been told to suspend their services in Cox’s Bazar District bordering Burma.
Dennis Aung Aung in Rangoon contributed to this story.