Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in Arakan State
By LAWI WENG and KHIN OO THAR / THE IRRAWADDY
Unrest in Arakan State, northwestern Burma, has left thousands of both Buddhist Arakanese and Rohingya Muslims civilians homeless, according to community leaders.
Burma’s state-run media reports that 1,662 houses have been burnt to the ground in sectarian clashes leading to around 10,000 Arakanese taking refuge at Buddhist monasteries and government schools. Precise numbers of Rohingya refugees remain unknown.
“We do not know exact numbers as we did not dare to go there as the situation is getting worse. We heard that there are many of them and some are moving to stay in Pauktaw Township,” said Hla Thein, a Muslim community leader in Rangoon.
Hla Thein and other Muslim leaders in the former capital have planned for temporary camps to be set up in Sittwe to help the newly dispossessed. “It might take time to implement our plans because the situation is not yet stable in Sittwe,” he added.
Rohingya Muslims are a minority in Buddhist-dominated Sittwe, the state capital, and so finding places for them to take shelter is proving difficult, according to local sources. This is in contrast to Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships which have a large Rohingya majority.
The state-run The New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on Wednesday that Lt-Gen Hla Min, from the Ministry of Defense-2, has met with both Muslim leaders and homeless Arakanese staying in government-run schools in Sittwe.
Khine Pye Soe, a spokesperson for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), told The Irrawaddy that aid is urgently needed in Sittwe as more people are arriving after having their houses burnt down. There are 8,500 homeless Arkanaese currently in Sittwe, according to local sources.
“They mainly need rice to eat,” said Khine Pye Soe. “We only have two more days of food for them remaining. But there are local private donors who come and donate food to them.”
Markets, banks and schools remain closed in Sittwe while many people face a shortage of food and water due to the ongoing sectarian violence.
The RNDP has asked the government to provide more aid to the refugees. The office of the Commander-in-Chief (Army) has already provided 159 bags of rice to six refugee camps in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships to feed 942 households with a population of 4,154.
Witnesses say there is no sign of the unrest being brought under control even though government troops have been deployed and a 6 pm to 6 am curfew enforced in five townships. A state of emergency has also been declared.
Burmese President Thein Sein gave a nationwide address on Sunday that warned the violence could threaten democratic reform. The government reported on Tuesday that 21 people have so far been killed, many more wounded and 1,662 houses burned down around Arakan State.
Bangladesh has sent back more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees who tried to flee the unrest by boat in recent days, according to official sources. Meanwhile, UN special adviser on Burma Vijay Nambiar arrived in Sittwe just before noon on Wednesday to assess the situation.
The current unrest was triggered by the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Muslim men. Ten Muslims were then dragged from a bus and beaten to death by an angry mob in apparent retaliation.