Burmese President Pardons Two UN Aid Workers

By The Irrawaddy & The Associated Presss 29 August 2012

RANGOON—Burmese President Thein Sein has pardoned two local United Nations workers who were sentenced to jail for alleged roles in sectarian violence between Muslims and Buddhists in western Burma.

A statement on the President’s Office website said a third aid worker employed by the Community Social Services Education Project charity was also pardoned.

No reason was given, and it was not immediately known whether the three had been freed.

The punishments were handed down on Friday in the Arakan State town of Maungdaw, said Aye Win, a UN spokesman based in Burma, on Monday. One of those sentenced was an employee of the UN refugee agency and the other the UN World Food Program.

UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told the media at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday that the Burmese authorities did not provide any details of the charges.

“The UN has consistently held that formal and precise charges would need to be provided to us before action is taken by the Myanmar authorities,” he said. “We would like to indicate that the detained staff should be treated in accordance with all the applicable international conventions and immunities they may be entitled to.”

The Burmese Weekly Eleven journal reported that the staffers—all believed to be from the local Muslim community—were charged with various crimes, including promoting hatred between Buddhists and Muslims and participation in arson attacks. The paper cited anonymous court sources in its report, and said the sentences ranged from two to six years.

Violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims exploded in June, leaving more 80 people dead and thousands of homes burned to the ground. Human rights groups say around 100,000 people were displaced during the conflict. They have accused the government over cracking down too harshly on Muslims, allegations the government has denied.

Humanitarian groups say that in all, at least 12 local staff employed by international aid groups were detained by the government in June for suspected involvement in the unrest. Nine have so far been released.

Last week, Doctors Without Borders said that two of its employees were still being held.