Jolie’s Plans to Visit Arakan State Dampened by Cyclone

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 30 July 2015

RANGOON — Hollywood film star Angelina Jolie Pitt has postponed a visit to western Burma’s Arakan State due to a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal, according to the UN refugee agency for which she serves as special envoy.

A spokeswoman for the agency told The Irrawaddy that the actress, who arrived in Burma on Wednesday in her capacity as a UN ambassador and proponent of a UK anti-sexual violence initiative, will wait out the weather in the capital city Naypyidaw.

“[Jolie] would like to go to Rakhine [Arakan] State as she had scheduled, but the weather has gotten worse,” the spokeswoman said. “She will wait and see what the weather will be like this afternoon.”

The Academy Award winning actress and renowned philanthropist initially planned to visit camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Arakan State on Thursday, then travel to Kachin State on July 31.

Plans were derailed, however, as Cyclone Komen brought thrashing winds and heavy rain to the already troubled coastal state, which is one of the poorest parts of the country and has seen several bouts of deadly inter-communal riots over the past three years.

Over 100,000 people displaced by the violence are still living in squalid displacement camps where they are denied freedom of mobility and receive limited aid. Most of the displaced were stateless Rohingya Muslims, while Arakanese Buddhists were also affected and many still live in remote and low-lying villages.

Hla Thein, head of the state’s Information Department, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that air traffic in and out of the capital Sittwe had been stopped as of Wednesday afternoon due to extreme weather conditions. He could not comment on the extent of damage thus far caused by the storm.

Rohingya rights activist Wai Wai Nu, who was scheduled to meet with Jolie, expressed disappointment that the envoy would not be able to visit some of the more remote parts of the state, such as Maungdaw and Buthidaung, where many IDPs live in impoverished camps and visits by outsiders are infrequent.

“Especially now, people in those camps in northern Rakhine have been suffering a lot due to the flooding,” Wai Wai Nu said. “I want to let her see those camps, too.”

Jolie was appointed as a UN special envoy for refugee issues in 2012, after 10 years of experience as a goodwill ambassador for the agency. She has been a close observer of the situation in Burma roughly since her initial visit to refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border in 2002.

This week’s visit was jointly organized by the UNHCR and the British Embassy in Rangoon on the invitation of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma’s democracy icon chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) first met Jolie during the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London last year.

“I am looking forward to meeting with many people including women’s groups, civil society, displaced people and youth, to learn firsthand from them about their concerns and hopes for the future of their country,” Jolie said of the visit in a statement this week.

“With elections on the horizon in November it is an important moment for people to exercise their democratic rights and help to address the fundamental issues critical to a peaceful future.”