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Humanitarian Aid From Malaysia Arrives in Myanmar’s Troubled Rakhine State

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Humanitarian aid sent by Malaysia for refugees in Myanmar’s beleaguered Rakhine state arrived in the state capital on Tuesday and will be distributed to both ethnic Rakhine people and Rohingya Muslims in three townships.

Malaysia has delivered hundreds of tons of food and other necessities, including rice, instant noodles, clothing, shoes, and hygiene kits, via the ship Nautical Aliya which arrived in Thilawa Port in Yangon region last week.

The items were loaded onto military ships that delivered them to Sittwe, capital of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. From there they will be given to people in Sittwe as well as in Pauktaw and Myebon townships, Myanmar officials said.

The boat also offloaded food, medicine and other supplies at the port of Chittagong in neighboring Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees now living in camps scattered across Cox’s Bazar after they fled a violent crackdown in the northern part of Rakhine state.

Myanmar army soldiers and police locked down the area after a deadly attack on three border guard posts on Oct. 9, which authorities blamed on Rohingya militants.

The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people died and about 73,000 Rohingya fled to safety in Bangladesh during a security sweep of northern Rakhine. The U.N.’s human rights office has said that killings, arbitrary arrests, and rapes carried out by security forces in the region indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The Myanmar government initially tried to block the ship from entering the country’s waters, saying that the Muslim organization behind the effort had not obtained official permission to land in Myanmar.

The government later declined Malaysia’s application to deliver aid to Sittwe and surrounding areas where many Rohingya have settled and instead issued clearance only for the port in Yangon.

The government also required that the supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya living in the region.

Amnesty issues annual report

In a related development, London-based Amnesty International said in its latest annual report issued Wednesday that the state of human rights in Myanmar has seen no improvements despite a new civilian-led government coming to power at the end of March 2016.

The report noted that this is especially the case in Rakhine state where the situation of the stateless minority Rohingya group deteriorated significantly during the security operation after the border guard post attacks.

“The response collectively punished the entire Rohingya community in northern Rakhine state, and the conduct of the security forces may have amounted to crimes against humanity,” the report said.

“The government issued blanket denials that security forces had carried out human rights violations,” it said. “An investigation commission established by the government in December lacked credibility as it was headed by a former army general and its members included the chief of police.”

The government led by Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has denied nearly all the abuse allegations.

A national-level commission investigating reports of abuse of the Rohingya detailed in the U.N.’s Feb. 3 report has said that its findings differ from those of the U.N., and that people interviewed could not corroborate accounts of violence.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s security forces are probing the deaths of eight Rohingya in custody who were among the nearly 600 arrested during the crackdown, Agence France-Presse reported.

Buddhists call the Rohingya “Bengalis” because they consider them illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship, though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Tens of thousands of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya have lived in internally displaced persons camps since being displaced by communal violence with majority Buddhists in 2012. The Rohingya are denied basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.

Bangladesh meanwhile has refused to grant the Rohingya who live there in camps refugee status because it considers them citizens of Myanmar.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.