Govt Welcomes Aid for Arakan Crisis, Defends Rohingya Travel Restrictions

By Lawi Weng 9 July 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s government told international community representatives on Tuesday that its handling of the Arakan crisis is leading to improvements, adding that US $66 million in international aid allocated to projects in the area was helping affected communities.

Authorities also defended the travel restrictions that are being imposing on the state’s Rohingya Muslims, which have been widely criticized as discriminatory and in violation of basic human rights.

“We have tightened security for Bengali people at their camps. We blocked them from travelling to areas where there are Arakanese in order to avoid further violence,” Arakan State government spokesman Hla Thein told dozens of diplomats, UN officials and aid workers gathered for a briefing at the Foreign Ministry.

“We did not confine [Muslims] to the camps. We just protect them for security reasons. We are worried that some people misunderstand our intentions. They separated [their communities] themselves after the violence,” Hla Thein said.

Some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, remained displaced in Arakan State after last year’s inter-communal violence, which killed 192 people. Authorities are being accused of supporting Buddhist mob attacks on the Rohingya.

The government does not recognize the group as Burmese citizens and refers to them as “Bengalis,” to suggest they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Central government officials also addressed the international community to talk about cooperation between the government and aid organizations, which committed $66 million in foreign aid so far in order to relieve the situation in Arakan State.

“The current coordination between the government and the UN agencies is progressing but needs further necessary coordination,” said Maj-Gen Zaw Win, a member of the Committee for Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development in Arakan State.

The committee’s chairman Aye Win said that deep divisions remained between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Arakan.

“We have studied the feeling and ideas of the people and found that they still don’t feel like staying together… Both sides have destroyed their livelihoods and they lost confidence in each other,” he told the international community, adding that it would take time before the communities could live together again.

Aye Win said that the region needed to have socio-economic development in order to create a way out of the crisis and the inter-communal tensions.

International human rights groups have accused the government of reinforcing the Rohingya’s statelessness and of tightening numerous restrictions on the Muslim population, which have affected their freedom of movement, access to healthcare, education and employment, and other basic rights.

There is a deep mistrust towards the authorities among the displaced Muslim population, which has been forced to stay in dirty, crowded camps in the countryside.

Aid groups have complained that relief operations in the Rohingya camps are regularly blocked by authorities and have called for lifting the restrictions on the Muslim population.

One of the UN representatives attending Tuesday’s briefing noted that the government was right in concluding that the Arakan crisis can only be resolved if trust is restored.

“The authorities have emphasized the building of trust and confidence. And that is the main thing that needs to happen now, between the communities, and between the authorities and the communities,” said Hans ten Feld, Burma representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.