YANGON — The US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel on Thursday rejected suggestions by the Myanmar government that international aid agencies—including the US Agency for International Development (USAID)—are supporting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in northern Rakhine State.
“Any suggestion that USAID, or any other US government agency is providing support to ARSA, an organization we have condemned, is absurd,” Marciel told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
“Everything that we have been doing, and that we continue to do, is in support of the Myanmar people and their effort to build democracy, peace, and prosperity,” he said, adding that embassy staff had spoken to the government regarding the allegations.
The Myanmar government reported the discovery of aid items in suspected militant camps in a number of official statements, as it has launched large security operations in northern Rakhine State after ARSA attacked police and military posts last Friday.
The attacks and continuing violence have left more than 100 confirmed dead—including 12 security personnel—and displaced thousands, with the International Organization for Migration estimating on Wednesday that some 18,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh.
On Wednesday, the government’s Information Committee reported that packets of high-energy biscuits provided by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) and packets of USAID-branded rice were found at suspected terrorist camps near Kyeekyun in Maungdaw Township on Monday.
At a press conference held by National Security Advisor U Thaung Tun on Tuesday, police Brig-Gen Win Tun said militants had made land mines from aid groups’ construction materials such as ammonia nitrate fertilizer and metal pipes, though he did not specify which aid groups and how militants accessed the materials.
WFP said it was aware of photographs circulating of WFP-branded food and had asked Myanmar authorities for more details in order to track the supply batch and investigate the matter further in a statement released Thursday.
“WFP takes any allegations of food diversions very seriously and considers any manipulation of food assistance destined for needy families as theft,” the statement said.
A US Embassy spokesperson said because the situation is fluid, and access to reliable information is limited, it cannot verify the discovery of the bags of rice or investigate how they might have been diverted.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also expressed concern about claims by the government that international aid workers were complicit in or supporting the attacks.
“Such statements are irresponsible and only serve to increase fears and the potential for further violence,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I am extremely concerned that the unsupported allegations against international aid organizations place their staff in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid.”
There were 77 aid agencies active in Rakhine State in March 2017, including 28 international NGOs, according to the Myanmar Information Management Unit.
Reuters reported this week that the UN and other aid groups had evacuated non-critical staff from northern Rakhine in response to the violence.
Anti-NGO sentiment has developed in Rakhine State since conflict in 2012, with ethnic Arakanese protesting what they feel is unfair favorable treatment of the Rohingya.
Marciel echoed sentiments of the UN and other embassies in condemning Friday’s vicious attacks and said he welcomed government comments that security forces would restore law and order with restraint.
He also urged unfettered access for monitors, aid groups, and journalists.