The Arakan State government has invited international aid organisations — including Médecins Sans Frontières, which was dramatically expelled from the state nearly five months ago — to continue operations in the troubled region.
In an announcement published by state media on Thursday, Arakan leadership said that 24 specified organisations and other agencies are invited “to participate in development, humanitarian, education, and healthcare programs in accordance with the wishes of the Rakhine [Arakanese] people.”
The announcement said that state politicians met in late June with members of the Myanmar Peace Centre, the Emergency Coordination Centre, civil society and the United Nations to discuss implementation of an “Action Plan for Peace, Stability and Development”.
Arakan State, home to an estimated 3.8 million people, is one of the poorest parts of Burma. Several bouts of deadly violence have erupted over the past two years between the state’s Buddhist and Muslim communities, worsening already dire conditions in the geographically isolated region.
What began in mid-2012 as a conflict between Arakanese Buddhists and the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority soon evolved into a broader dispute between the two faiths. Since June 2012, an estimated 140,000 people have been displaced and more than 200 have died as a result of the conflict. Most of the damages fell upon Muslim communities; many are still living in isolated and severely under-resourced displacement camps suffering shortages of food, medicine and clean water.
International observers, including representatives of the United Nations, have stated the belief that crimes against humanity may have been committed against the Rohingya community in Arakan State, and rights groups have accused the government of official complicity in anti-Muslim pogroms.
In February of this year, the government declined to renew an agreement with frontline health respondents Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), effectively barring them from the state. The decision followed shortly after MSF staff reported that they had treated 22 Muslim patients just after an alleged massacre in the state’s northern Maungdaw Township, an event that the government denies.
The decision is believed to have been based on a perception that the organisation was biased in favour of Muslims. The move sparked international outrage as fears of a humanitarian crisis grew.
In March, perceptions of pro-Muslim bias among foreign aid workers swelled again; mobs of angry Buddhists ravaged the homes and offices of aid workers in the state capital, Sittwe, leading to a sudden exodus of humanitarian assistance from which the state has yet to recover.
The move to restore aid and development work follows a recent and abrupt political shuffle in the troubled region. The state’s Chief Minister, Hla Maung Tin, resigned in mid-June and was replaced by the government a week later with Major General Maung Maung Ohn, former border affairs deputy minister.
Thursday’s announcement did not specify the extent of allowable operations or a time-frame for restarting stalled or stunted programmes.