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The Burmese government on Monday gathered a group of international humanitarian agencies working in the restive Arakan state to remind them that they must distribute aid “fairly” to local communities.
It follows the latest eruption of violence in the western state, where communal clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have claimed hundreds of lives since last year.
On Saturday, at least four people, including three Rohingyas, were killed in Pauktaw township, an area about two hours northeast of the state capital Sittwe. Local Buddhists later accused Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) of “bias” for taking three injured Muslim men to hospital.
Government spokesperson Hla Thein told DVB that a group of 18 major aid groups, including UN agencies, were subsequently called to a meeting to remind them that they must be impartial in the provision of humanitarian aid.
“This morning, the [Arakan state] chief minister [Hla Maung Tin] summoned 18 INGOs and UN agencies in Sittwe and reminded them to be transparent with their operations in conflict areas to show the locals that they are impartial,” he said, warning that international aid groups are not entitled to “special privileges” because they are foreign.
Hla Thein said that Sittwe residents were upset with MSF for taking three Muslim men, who were injured in a confrontation with police on Saturday, to treatment at Sittwe hospital.
“They said that MSF is biased and only care for the Bengalis but not the Arakanese,” he explained, using the government’s term for the Muslim Rohingya who are denied citizenship in Burma.
Six Rohingyas from Sintatmaw displacement camp in Pauktaw township disappeared on Saturday after going in search of firewood in the nearby hills. One of the men were later discovered dead, allegedly from physical wounds, and taken back to their local mosque. The remaining five are still missing.
Another three Rohingya were injured by police during a confrontation at the camp, one of whom later died in hospital. Hla Thein said police officials were forced to shoot into the crowd.
Three Arakanese women were later targeted in the nearby Sinaigyi village as part of a revenge attack, which claimed the life of one and injured another.
“Some individuals were injured in Sintatmaw during the confrontation where the police had to fire some shots to make a way out and an MSF member brought them to Sittwe on a speedboat and residents in Sittwe were upset because the group didn’t provide same treatment to the women who were attacked in Sinaigyi,” said Hla Thein.
Some 140,000 people have been uprooted and at least 200 people killed during several bouts of communal clashes to ripple through Arakan state since June 2012.
International aid groups have been treated with hostility by local Buddhists who say they favour the Rohingya. Aid workers report enormous difficulties in distributing aid to the Rohingya, who make up the majority of the displaced, often facing threats of violence from Buddhists.
The UN has previously criticised the government for failing to ensure unhindered access for aid groups working in Arakan.
Hla Thein said that Sittwe residents on Sunday attempted to organise a protest against the alleged NGO “bias” but later changed their minds after negotiating with the local authorities.
Some 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are believed to reside in western Burma, where they are considered illegal Bengali immigrants and heavily persecuted.