Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with members of the Rohingya community in the segregated ghetto of Aung Mingalar in the Arakan State capital Sittwe on Monday as part of an official visit to Burma.
Cavusoglu arrived in the western Burmese city at 5:30pm and met with the regional chief minister, Nyi Pu, of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy. The Turkish foreign minister donated 500 sacks of rice which, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, he emphasised were to be distributed to “all” in the impoverished region of Arakan, and not only the Muslims displaced by communal unrest.
The Turkish delegation visited a government school in Sittwe, before Cavusoglu broke the Ramadan fast at sunset with local Muslims at a mosque in Aung Mingalar. Later, he spoke to members of the community, though no details were available of their conversations.
Cavusoglu departed from Sittwe airport to Rangoon at 8:30pm.
On Sunday, the Turkish foreign minister and his delegation were hosted by President Htin Kyaw in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw, where they discussed bilateral relations and furthering economic and trade cooperation, Burma’s state media reported.
Cavusoglu also met with Burma’s military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to discuss promoting military ties between the two nations, as well as issues related to providing aid to communities in Arakan, also known as Rakhine.
On the same day, the Turkish foreign minister also met with his Burmese counterpart Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw.
According to state-run Global New light of Myanmar: “The talks focused on developing a strong partnership in education, health, culture and tourism sectors, seeking ways to boost bilateral trade, and opening flight paths between the two countries, as well as opening political dialogue between the two countries.”
According to Cavusoglu, Turkey has provided more than US$30 million to help Burmese health, education and infrastructure sectors since 2012.
At a press conference following the talks, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, Cavusoglu stressed to reporters that Turkish aid groups did not discriminate between peoples, “actively reaching out to all areas in need, making roads, and opening health clinics across the country.”
Suu Kyi reportedly thanked Cavusoglu for his “sensitivity” in seeking solutions to the situation in Arakan, and said she hoped “the international community will treat the case with the same sensitivity, and help us progress in finding a solution.”
The Burmese Nobel Prize laureate’s comments came after a slew of accusations in international circles that she has constantly backed away from offering support to the country’s beleaguered Rohingya community, who are mostly refused status under Burma’s strict citizenship laws.
Many in Burma consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants and strongly support efforts to isolate, persecute and deport the million-strong Muslim community.
Communal tensions between the Rohingyas and Arakanese Buddhists spilled over into mob violence in 2012, when at least 100 people were killed and 140,000 left homeless, the majority being Rohingya Muslims.
In 2013, a Turkish government-backed plan to build 5,000 houses for displaced Rohingyas was met with protests in Sittwe. Twenty-two Arakanese Buddhists were arrested, two of whom were later sentenced to three months in prison.
The Turkish government has been seen as particularly controversial due to its links with the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which sparked nationwide protests in 2012 after it offered to set up a humanitarian liaison office in Sittwe.
Years of statelessness and hopelessness have taken their toll on the Rohingya, thousands of whom take to the high seas every year in order to find passage to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. Many die at sea, while others get caught up in unscrupulous human trafficking rings.