Myanmar takes global diplomats on tour of troubled Rakhine

03 October 2017

Myanmar authorities on Monday took foreign diplomats and United Nations representatives on a tour of conflict-torn northern Rakhine state, where a security crackdown has led to an exodus of more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims.

Three groups of diplomats were taken to three different areas, said Ye Htut, district administrator of Maungdaw in Rakhine. He did not provide details on the diplomats' nationalities.

However according to Eleven Myanmar, the group comprised 40 people including those from the United States, the European Union, Malaysia, Israel, Denmark, France, Indonesia, and Pakistan, Thailand, and India, Bangladeshi ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Shah Alom Khokon, Malaysian ambassador to Myanmar Mohd Haniff Bin Abd Rahman, Renata Nicola Lok Dessallien from the United Nations Refugee Commission (UNRC), Cecile Fradot from UNHCR, and Domenico Scalpelli from WFP.

They were joined by Rakhine state and central government officials and union ministers Dr Myint Htwe and Win Khine.

They visited Khon Tai village where the entire village was burnt down, and met a Hindu family whose members were killed in Yankar village.

They also stopped at Pantaw Pyin Muslim village, where communities lived peacefully during the crisis, and met with members of ethnic Rakhine, Muslim, Mro, Hindu, Diangnet, and Kathe minority groups who were caught up in the violence in other areas.

Myanmar has come under international criticism for barring aid groups, journalists and other outsiders from independently travelling to the Rakhine region. A guided visit for diplomats scheduled for last week was abruptly cancelled.

More than half a million Rohingya have fled from the region to Bangladesh in just over a month, the largest refugee crisis to hit Asia in decades. The current exodus is in addition to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled prior violence in Myanmar, where the Muslim ethnic group has faced decades of persecution and discrimination in the Buddhist-majority nation.

Bangladesh's Foreign Minister A H Mahmood Ali said Monday that Myanmar ''has made proposals for taking back Rohingya refugees''.

Ali made the remarks after meeting in Bangladesh's capital with a Myanmar delegation led by Kyaw Tint Swe, a minister in the State Counsellor's Office.

Ali told reporters that the two countries had agreed to form a joint working group to start work on repatriation. ''Both countries want to settle the issue peacefully,'' he said.

It was unclear whether Myanmar would place restrictions on which refugees would be allowed to return home. Most Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar, although many families have lived in the country for generations.

The Myanmar delegation did not speak to the media.

The latest violence began when a Rohingya insurgent group launched deadly attacks on security posts on 25 August, prompting Myanmar's military to launch ''clearance operations''.

Those fleeing have described indiscriminate attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs. The government has blamed the Rohingya, saying they set fire to their own homes, but the UN and others accuse it of ethnic cleansing.

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