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Foreign diplomats travel to Maungdaw as concerns grow

Local villagers in northern Arakan State's Maungdaw Township gather to meet a delegation of foreign diplomats who visited the region on 2 November 2016. Photo: DVB)

A 10-member delegation of foreign diplomats arrived in northern Arakan State on Wednesday for the first visit to the area by senior international observers since it came under military lockdown more than three weeks ago.

The delegation, led by United Nations resident Renata Lok-Desallien, traveled with Arakan State Chief Minister Nyi Pu to Kyinkanpyin, where attacks on 9 October left nine border police dead, and other villages to meet with officials and residents of the predominantly Muslim region.

The members of the delegation included diplomats from the United States, Britain and the European Union, neighbouring China, India and Thailand, and Muslim-majority countries Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey.

They were also accompanied by Border Affairs Minister Lt-Gen. Ye Aung and Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Htin.

The visit comes amid growing concerns that Rohingya Muslims living in the region are being targeted for abuse by security personnel as they carry out a sweep of the region in search of the perpetrators of last month’s attacks.

According to a report by Reuters, some members of the delegation have privately expressed scepticism that the high-level diplomatic mission will be able to tackle the concerns raised by the international community or gain thorough access and be able to investigate abuses independently.

The same report cites other senior UN officials as saying that they are continuing their calls for access to the region by international aid agencies.

“Essential, life-saving humanitarian activities have been suspended for more than three weeks now, and they need to be resumed as soon as possible,” said Pierre Peron of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

UNOCHA has urged for aid agencies to be granted access to the 10,000 to 15,000 people thought to have been displaced by the latest violence in Arakan State.

In a sign that the mission was carefully managed by the authorities, state media have been invited to film the visiting diplomats, but no international reporters were informed of the trip or allowed to join.

Rohingya sources from the area have echoed the concerns about independent access to witnesses, but said the diplomats were likely to visit villages where residents have told Reuters of rapes, destruction of homes and killings of civilians.