Arakan officials snub OIC offers of help

Arakan officials snub OIC offers of help

An eight-member delegation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), led by Malaysian former Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, wrapped up a two-day trip to Arakan State capital Sittwe on Thursday after visiting camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and meeting with local Arakanese officials and civil society groups.

But local authorities have complained that they were not properly informed of the OIC’s visit and again turned down the Islamic bloc’s request to establish a presence in the state, which has suffered from deadly bouts of interreligious violence between Buddhists and Muslims for more than two years.

The OIC has made no comment about the trip.

Arakanese State officials have told DVB that they were told an informal group was due to visit the region, but had not been prepared for an official delegation from the 57-member state bloc.

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“What we were told was that a group led by the former foreign minister of Malaysia was coming to meet with us,” said State Information Officer Oo Oo Hla Thein. “They didn’t tell us they were here on an official OIC mission – only that they were representatives who wanted to listen to local views about the OIC. The last time they came protests broke out, so I really don’t know what they were thinking.”

Arakan State Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn, who met with the delegation on Wednesday, said that the Arakanese people could not yet accept OIC’s presence there.

“The Chief Minister updated them on the situation in Rakhine [Arakan], and explained that we are not yet ready to accept OIC,” said Oo Oo Hla Thein. “We are currently working on nationality verification. If that is successful, we will start working on IDP rehabilitation.

“When we come to the issue of rehabilitation, we will seek opinions from the public,” the Chief Minister said. “If they are willing to accept OIC assistance, then we will permit them to become involved.”

He said the OIC delegation did not discuss details, but listened to local opinions, including input from town elders, women’s groups and a youth network.

Radio Free Asia reported on Thursday that the OIC had offered to build a hospital and other facilities, but that the local government said the projects cannot be implemented until stability is restored following communal violence.

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