YANGON — Foreign diplomats visited flash point areas of Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine state on Wednesday, authorities said, as pressure mounts on the government to address accusations of rights abuses in a region home to the Muslim Rohingya minority.
The military has heavily restricted access to the state’s northwestern strip, which abuts Bangladesh, since surprise raids on border posts left nine police dead on Oct. 9.
The hunt for the culprits, who the government says are radicalized Rohingya Muslims, has seen more than 30 people killed, dozens arrested and 15,000 flee their homes in fear.
The government has denied allegations that security forces have raped villagers, looted towns and torched homes belonging to the Rohingya and is keen to show that its operations to flush out the attackers were proportionate. The ambassadors of China, the United States and United Kingdom were among diplomats and UN officials who arrived in the area on Wednesday morning, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information said on its website.
They were joined by a high-level Myanmar government delegation “to study villages in Maungdaw district… from Nov. 2nd to 3rd” the ministry added.
The surge in violence, in a state that has seen repeated rounds of religious unrest since 2012, has renewed international pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to tackle the conflict and probe allegations of army abuse.
Those reports are difficult to verify with the army barring journalists from some areas of the remote region. The violence has also raised a question mark over the extent of her leverage over an army that dominated the country for decades until her pro-democracy party was swept to power by elections a year ago.
A local policeman, requesting anonymity, said the ambassadors began the day by “checking the area around Wapaik village near Kyikanpyin BGP commanding office,” referring to the Border Guard Police post hit by the attack on Oct. 9.
Later a hundreds-strong group of Rohingya met their convoy as it toured the area.
“We told them we were kicked out from our village. We hope they can do something for us,” Aung Thura, a Rohingya man who fled his village as it was engulfed in violence, said.
Most of the one-million strong Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and tens of thousands have been trapped in grim displacement camps ever since religious violence tore through Rakhine in 2012.
The status of the Muslim minority has become a touchstone for Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar. Many insist the group hails from Bangladesh and are in Myanmar illegally, despite their long roots in the country. The issue routinely billows out on social media where local and foreign journalists are often accused of one-sidedness and distortion.
A team of state-run news agencies were also dispatched to northern Rakhine on Wednesday, according to the government mouthpiece the Global New Light of Myanmar. Their mission was to “clarify” the situation and “refute accusations on the alleged racial and religious persecution” by the army, the report added. — AFP