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Burma rejects US allegations

Burma’s presidential spokesperson Ye Htut has rejected US President Barack Obama’s allegation that Burmese Muslims are oppressed, and has refuted US claims that communities in Arakan State have been left in a precarious situation by the absence of international aid workers.

Speaking in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, the American president praised Burma’s political reforms, but warned that the country “won’t succeed if the Muslim population is oppressed”.

However, Ye Htut on Monday rejected the US president’s criticism. Speaking to DVB from Sagaing on Monday, he said, “There is no discrimination against Muslims in Burma. Islam is an officially recognised faith in the country. The issues [of violence] we are seeing today are taking place at ground level. There is no state-sanctioned discrimination against Muslims, so I would say that our reforms have been successful.”

Communal violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities has racked Burma over the past two years, particularly in northern Arakan State where vicious pogroms against the Muslim Rohingya community have led to the loss of perhaps hundreds of lives, with thousands of houses destroyed and more than 100,000 people now living in shelters for internally displaced persons (IDPs).


Last month, local Buddhist mobs in Sittwe attacked international aid agencies they accused of siding with the Rohingya IDPs over Buddhist Arakanese victims, a charge the relief groups vehemently deny. INGOs were subsequently forced to close their offices, suspend relief programmes and evacuate staff from the region.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Rangoon told DVB on Monday that it is calling on the Burmese government to reinstate all UN agencies and INGO humanitarian operations in Arakan State.

“We continue to have serious concerns about the continuing lack of access by humanitarian aid agencies and personnel to vulnerable communities in Rakhine [Arakan] State. This has left communities in an extremely precarious situation, particularly with respect to access to water, sanitation, food and healthcare. We urge the Burmese government to work closely with the UN and international NGOs to facilitate their return to Rakhine [Arakan] State and to support the immediate resumption of their operations, including by assuring their security,” he said.

Again, Burma’s presidential spokesman begged to differ. “Firstly, we reject the US’ allegations,” said Ye Htut. “Secondly, there has been absolutely no outbreak of any disease, because the Ministry of Health … has stepped up measures to provide healthcare, sanitation and water assistance.

“Thirdly,” he continued, “we are consistently cooperating with UN agencies. But cooperating with the government alone is not enough – the UN agencies and international aid groups also need to work to win credibility from the local [Arakanese] community. And we cannot help them with this – they will have to behave and carry out procedures appropriately to get the locals to cooperate with them. In order to do this, they need to show transparency and impartiality.”

On 9- 10 April, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel visited Burma and met with senior Burmese government officials, including President Thein Sein, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Information Minister Aung Kyi, and Deputy Minister for Border Affairs Maung Maung Ohn.

On 10 April, the US Embassy issued a statement, again commending the Thein Sein administration’s political reform agenda but noting concerns about the recent violence in Arakan State.

“We encourage the government to take a more active role in resolving these issues, to work toward a durable solution that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Rakhine [Arakan] State, and to create the conditions for sustainable peace and development, with which the United States is prepared to assist,” the Rangoon embassy said in a press release.



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