YANGON — The deputy emergency relief coordinator of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) visited northern Rakhine State on Thursday to meet with Buddhist and Muslim communities and hear their concerns.
Maungdaw District Deputy Director U Ye Htoo said Ursula Mueller arrived in the morning with a nine-member team and immediately headed for Kai Gyee village in the south, home to a community of ethnic Mro, a sub-group of the state’s majority Buddhist Arakanese.
Six locals from the village were killed by suspected Muslim Rohingya militants in early August, after which some 50 Mro families fled the Mayu mountain range for the surrounding lowlands.
A few weeks later, on Aug. 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked nearly 30 border police posts and a military base in northern Rakhine. The Myanmar military then launched a massive clearance operation targeting Rohingya communities that sparked widespread reports of arson, rape and murder and has driven nearly 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. The UN has called the military’s actions a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, and rights advocates have urged the UN Security Council to refer the country’s army leaders to the International Criminal Court.
After her visit to Kai Gyee, Mueller travelled to Pan Taw Pyin village, on the outskirts of Maungdaw town, to meet with a Muslim community, and then on to the village of Shwe Zar, a mixed community of Arakanese, Rohingya and Hindus that largely escaped last year’s violence, and a refugee reception camp at Hla Phoe Khaung, near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh.
OCHA Myanmar spokesman Pierre Peron sent The Irrawaddy a brief statement on the trip via email in lieu of answering specific questions.
It said Mueller visited a camp for Rohingya displaced by communal violence in 2012 in the state capital, Sittwe, and that she met with both Buddhist and Muslim communities, local government officials and humanitarian aid partners on the same day.
“The deputy emergency relief coordinator listened to the concerns of people in all communities and discussed ways to improve humanitarian assistance, protection and essential services, as well as livelihoods and job opportunities for all people in need,” the statement said.
Her itinerary suggests the OCHA team did not reach parts of northern Maungdaw that saw the worst of last year’s violence, nor other villages in the area that survived at least partly intact, including Ngan Chaung, Nga Sar Kyu and Nga Khu Ya.
A Muslim resident of Ngan Chaung told The Irrawaddy by phone that villagers were being prevented from leaving without a recommendation letter from the village head.
“We have been stuck here for almost seven months. We have no access to health care in town, no freedom of movement and no education for schoolchildren,” he said.
The man said the village was spared the arson attacks of late 2017 but added that nearly 5,000 residents had fled fearing arrest, leaving only about 700 people behind.
During a government-led tour of Maungdaw for local journalists last week, one villager told The Irrawaddy that he was fined 200,000 kyats ($151) by border police for traveling without a permit. He said his village receives regular humanitarian assistance from the government and international aid agencies, but not enough to make up for the income they are losing out on because of the curfews and travel restrictions.
The relative calm of recent months was abruptly shaken on Wednesday when a Mro woman was hacked to death by unidentified men while she and seven others were fishing and foraging for edible plants near Kha Maung Seik Town.
Though Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in November to repatriate the Rohingya who have fled across the border since last year, the returns have yet to begin.