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A delegation of foreign diplomats, led by US ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell, visited the restive Arakan state this week to assess the impact of ongoing sectarian clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.
The delegation, made up of the US and Swiss ambassadors to Burma, as well as British diplomats, met with both Buddhist and Muslim communities on Monday and Tuesday in a bid to promote reconciliation.
It follows the latest outbreak out violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Burma, which has already displaced over 140,000 people and claimed some 200 lives since last year.
The team visited displacement camps in Sittwe, Maungdaw, Myebon and Pauktaw townships to offer assistance to affected communities.
“They are here to provide health and education assistance to communities on both sides,” said Win Myaing, the government’s spokesperson for Arakan state.
Aye Nu Sein, an official from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, who met with the foreign officials in Sittwe, said she told them that the security situation remained precarious.
“I told them that the Arakanese people are fed up because in addition to poor social, education and economic standards, we have absolutely no peace and security,” Aye Nu Sein told DVB. “Every time a riot breaks out, the situation goes back to square one.”
Immigration Minister Khin Yi and the secretary of the state-backed Arakan investigation committee, Kyaw Yin Hlaing, accompanied the delegation.
Khin Yi reportedly urged local leaders in Sittwe’s Muslim quarter, Aung Minglar, to “cooperate” with the government in compiling a list of displaced Rohingyas. It follows a public backlash against a government scheme to force Rohingyas to register as “Bengalis” on a local survey – reflecting the government view that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Some 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are estimated to live in western Burma, where they are denied citizenship and heavily persecuted. The region has been gripped by violence since last year when Muslims first clashed with Buddhists following the rape and murder of an Arakanese woman.
Sectarian clashes have since spread to other parts of Burma, including Mandalay and the commercial capital Rangoon.
The latest eruption of violence, which hit Pauktaw earlier this month, forced a number of aid organisations to scale back essential humanitarian services for displaced communities.