YANGON – A delegation led by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited Rakhine State amid an uptick in recent violence.
UN officials met with border police Brig-Gen Thura San Lwin in Maungdaw on Monday and visited villages that suffered arson during Myanmar Army security clearance operations. The delegates will travel to Napyitaw on Wednesday to meet with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and several Union ministers.
Six UN delegates arrived in Rakhine State’s capital Sittwe on Sunday and visited the Dapaing internally displaced persons (IDP) camp that afternoon.
Dapaing IDP U Saw Lwin, who met Grandi in the camp on Friday, told The Irrawaddy that IDPs were unaware of the UNHCR visit. Grandi told IDPs that the delegation intended to inquire about the situation of refugees on the ground.
U Saw Lwin said IDPs reported to Grandi that they were frustrated with the situation in the camp after nearly five years there and still hoped to be compensated for assets that were destroyed during inter-communal riots in 2012. The IDPs told UN representatives about their lack of freedom of movement, education and healthcare.
At the end of June, Myanmar government officials held a special meeting on Rakhine State affairs in Naypyitaw. The national security adviser provided recommendations on how to proceed regarding a UN fact-finding mission and Army Commander-in-Chief Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win reported on recent violence in the area and security preparations.
There have been international and local calls for Myanmar’s government to allow a UN fact-finding mission to look into allegations of human rights abuses in the region, which it has repeatedly refused. The government has insisted that domestic investigations, along with an advisory panel led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, were sufficient.
When asked by The Irrawaddy if the UNHCR visit and meeting with the border police were a response to international pressure to allow a UN fact-finding mission, government spokesman U Zaw Htay said, “We cannot elaborate on the visit or discussion. I was not informed of the details. Ask UNHCR staff.”
On July 1, the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee released a statement from national security adviser U Thaung Tun that highlighted a recent increase in violence in the area, some of which stemmed from incidents between the Myanmar Army and suspected militants.
It stated that from October 2016 to June 2017, 38 civilians were killed in Maungdaw district and 22 villagers were abducted or went missing. Many of the victims were village administrative officials who had collaborated with the government, according to the statement.
“There has been a worrying increase in the number of murders and disappearances in recent weeks. In the past two weeks alone, six villagers have been killed and two have gone missing,” read the statement.
On July 1, a man who worked distributing humanitarian assistance was murdered in his home. The statement did not provide further details of the incident.
The government has provided more than US$1.96 million in humanitarian assistance to Rakhine State in the past year. Three IDP camps in Kyaukphyu, Pauktaw and Ramree townships have been closed in line with the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led advisory commission; among them, 55 households have been relocated to Yangon.
Grandi’s visit is scheduled to run through July 6. He has worked in refugee and political affairs in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. This is his first visit to Myanmar since he was appointed high commissioner in January 2016.