US State Dept Official to Visit Rakhine

By Moe Myint 14 September 2017

YANGON — Diplomatic sources close to the US Embassy in Yangon confirmed to The Irrawaddy that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy will land in Myanmar on Monday and is scheduled to travel to conflict-torn northern Rakhine State.

Officials declined to comment on whether Murphy would pay a visit to border towns Buthidaung and Maungdaw, where thousands of houses have been burned in recent weeks, most belonging to Muslims.

Patrick Murphy reportedly intends to meet with Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, Arakan National Party (ANP) politicians, businesspeople, civil society representatives, and members of the Muslim community in state capital Sittwe’s Aung Mingalar quarter.

ANP secretary U Tun Aung Kyaw said that they have not received any information about a visit by Murphy. He said the party’s leaders and lawmakers would determine whether to meet with the Deputy Assistant Secretary.

CNN reported on Thursday that Murphy had summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to the US, U Aung Lynn, and expressed deep concern about recent violence in Rakhine State, including against the self-identifying Rohingya, a term considered contentious by the Buddhist majority, who refer to the population as “Bengali.”

The Irrawaddy phoned Rakhine State government officials about the visit, but were unable to reach them at the time of reporting.

Murphy is likely to address mass displacement over the last month: according to UN estimates, around 400,000 self-identifying Rohingya Muslim refugees are living in makeshift shelters in Bangladesh’s Teknaf District, across the border from Rakhine State.

The Myanmar government announced that 30,000 Arakanese Buddhists and local Hindus have sought refuge in community halls, government schools, Buddhist monasteries and villages under the protection of state security forces.

Maungdaw Township has 272 Muslim villages—of these, residents of 145 have fled to Bangladesh, many of their communities destroyed by arson. Recent figures suggest that 179 villages remain intact.

Before violence erupted in Buthidaung, it had 175 Muslim villages. Residents of 12 villages have fled, as have those from 19 villages in Rathedaung Township. But it is unclear whether the villagers have crossed the western border or are internally displaced and relying on assistance from other remaining Muslim villages in the region.

According to government statistics, nearly 4,300 displaced Buddhists, Hindus and Arakanese sub-ethnic residents from 25 villages returned to their homes this week.