Turkey Foreign Minister Tours Arakan State

By Saw Yan Naing 10 August 2012

Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, on Friday morning to assess the needs of those displaced by communal violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

The Justice and Development Party member toured temporary shelters where victims have taken refuge and also helped distribute aid to those affected by the sectarian strife, according to residents in Sittwe.

Before flying to Arakan State, Davutoglu met with Burmese President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw on Thursday. He also met several government officials including Immigration Minister Khin Yi, Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Thein Htay and his Burmese counterpart Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.

During his meeting with Thein Sein, the 53-year-old parliamentarian said that his country sees the unrest in Arakan State as a humanitarian situation in which both Muslim and Buddhist communities must be provided with aid, according to state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.

“The Rakhine [Arakan] issue should not tarnish the positive image of Myanmar. The misunderstanding of Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC] countries could be prevented by allowing international assistance,” Davutoglu was quoted as saying.

An OIC meeting is due to be held in Saudi Arabia next week and Davutoglu said he would attempt to explain the Arakan situation and what he witnessed in Burma and would also encourage the group secretary to visit the country. Turkey has donated US $50 million for affected families in Arakan State.

Due to communal violence in western Burma which first flared at the start of June, at least 77 people have been killed while more than 90,000 have been displaced.

Thein Sein told Davutoglu that he was disheartened by the fickle nature of the media with pictures of alleged genocide spreading through the internet which actually show unrelated incidents in faraway countries.

“Rakhine issues have nothing to do with religion or race,” Thein Sein told the state media. “The cause of the unrest is unlawful acts. It was ignited by the brutal murder of a girl. There was then revenge between the groups which later caused a lot of suffering.”

The recent bloodshed in Arakan State began with the rape and murder of a Buddhist Arakanese girl in late May, allegedly by three Rohingya Muslims. In response, a Buddhist mob killed 10 Muslims on a bus on June 3, leading to intense violence between the two groups.

Clashes escalated in Maungdaw Township in Arakan State on June 8 when a mob of 1,000 Muslims went on a rampage and had to be restrained by armed Burmese troops. A curfew and state of emergency were subsequently introduced.

Davutoglu also advised that sectarian propaganda could be minimized by allowing independent international organizations access to report from the ground, according to the government newspaper. He also invited Thein Sein to visit Turkey in the near future.

During his trip to Burma, Davutoglu was accompanied by his wife Sare Davutoglu as well as the Turkish Prime Minister’s wife Emine Erdogan and met with Thein Sein’s wife Khin Khin Win in Naypyidaw on Thursday. Burma and Turkey first established diplomatic relations in 1958.

As communal unrest in Arakan State draws international attention, several Muslim countries have condemned Burma’s attempts to quell the violence with state security forces accused of  “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingyas.

The OIC wrote to Thein Sein this week to urge him to address the plight of the Rohingya minority and called on the government to end all oppression of Muslims. Davutoglu, however, said that transparency and the possible visit of the OIC secretary to Burma could help end misunderstandings with Islamic countries.