Kalla pledges aid to Myanmar Rohingya
M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Yangon
Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) chairman Jusuf Kalla is in Myanmar this weekend, overseeing a humanitarian effort to help those affected by the conflict between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine state.
On Saturday he signed a cooperation agreement with his Myanmarese counterpart Tha Hla Swe, chairman of that country’s Red Cross.
Under the agreement, the PMI will provide financial and technical assistance for short- and long-term programs in response to the refugee crisis in Rakhine state.
Kalla said that the PMI would be non-partisan in its assistance and would apply lessons learned from handling similar ethnic conflict in Indonesia.
“In our country we had an ethnic conflict that left 5,000 people dead in Poso and we managed to stop this trouble before it reached other parts of the country. We have to do the same here,” Kalla said in a speech before signing the document.
Myanmar Red Cross Society chairman Hla Shwe Said that the support would significantly help refugees.
“The support will strengthen our efforts to provide aid to all affected communities based purely on need and irrespective of religious, racial and other considerations, based on fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality,” he said.
The former vice president said that the PMI would likely stay in Rakhine state for the post-conflict reconstruction program.
He said that the mission to help Myanmar was the first for Indonesia in neighboring countries, adding that it was the result of cooperation between the Red Cross and the Myanmar government.
Kalla added that the PMI would join a project to build homes for the displaced Rohingyas.
“A number of OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] members have pledged financial assistance for this”, Kalla said, shortly before the signing ceremony.
Kalla added that so far the commitment had reached more than US$100 million.
The PMI has already sent personnel and humanitarian aid.
It sent eight staff and aid comprising 500 sanitary kits, 3,000 blankets and 10,000 sarongs, traditional items of clothing worn by most Myanmarese.
PMI spokeswoman Ayu Andini said earlied that the PMI had decided to send non-food aid based on the assessment of a team lead by Kalla when the latter visited Myanmar at the beginning of August.
According to Ayu, personnel joining the mission to Myanmar would assess the needs of the victims in order to determine what kind of aid the PMI would send next.
The Myanmar government, which is currently undergoing democratic reform, allowed the PMI, along with other international humanitarian agencies, to send aid to the refugees of the deadly conflict between the Rohingyas and Rakhines.
Data from the UN Human Rights Council says that at least 78 people have been reported killed since riots broke out in May, while 1,200 people have gone missing and 80,000 others are seeking refuge around Sittwe and Maungdaw in Myanmar.
More than 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live in Myanmar, but they are not recognized by the government as one of its ethnic groups. Deadly summer clashes between the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist majority have forced many to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where the European Union says 40,000 unregistered Rohingya already live in makeshift camps.
Currently seeking refugee status in Indonesia are 394 Rohingya, 124 of whom wish to go to third countries.