|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar
Another high-ranking United Nations official added his voice to the growing concern over reports of increased violence between Myanmar’s Buddhist and Muslim communities, calling on the country’s leaders to bring the perpetrators of such intolerance to book.
Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General for Myanmar, was speaking by telephone from Thailand after having concluded a visit to that country, where he had met with the President and other Government officials, as well as religious leaders.
He said the authorities had permitted him to visit Meiktila, where “the unfortunate events” had taken place, on Sunday and he had been able to see some of the areas that had borne the brunt of the attacks. He had also visited the six shelters in which almost 9,000 victims had been housed. Accompanied by religious leaders from the Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities, as well as two Government ministers, Mr. Nambiar said he had met with the Chief Minister of the central Myanmar region in which the town is located, and the Army Commander’s local representative.
Many people in the shelters were “traumatized”, Mr. Nambiar said, describing the situation as “quite devastating in many respects”. Speaking to some of the victims had left the impression that the attacks had been perpetrated by people they did not recognize and whom they suspected of being “outsiders”. What was clear, however, was that the mostly Muslim victim communities had been specifically targeted and that the attacks had been carried out “almost with a kind of brutal efficiency”, he said.
Despite having lost everything, most of the victims could not consider moving anywhere except back to where they had been attacked, Mr. Nambiar continued, adding that their wish was for the Government and the international community to make that possible soon. The Government had given him assurances that it would make every effort to resettle the victims exactly where they had been, and not in any new location. Further, it would try to provide them with assistance in rebuilding their lives and perhaps some form of compensation.
He said the authorities had informed him that they had apprehended about 33 people in connection with the Meiktila atrocities, and were carrying out further investigations with a view to establishing who else was involved. During his meeting with President Thein Sein on Monday, the latter had been “very firm” in asserting that action would be taken against the perpetrators and to prevent the spread of attacks elsewhere.
“But unfortunately, there are reports of there being these kinds of attacks against communities, destruction of houses and even mosques spreading in other parts of the country,” Mr. Nambiar noted. Attacks were reportedly spreading southwards from Meiktila, and reports had been received of disturbances very close to Yangon. While not many deaths had been reported, property had been destroyed. There was a state of alarm and apprehension, the Special Adviser said, noting, however, that the authorities had assured him that they would deal firmly with the situation. “It remains to be seen how firmly their action will be taken.”
Asked about charges by Muslims that Buddhists were carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” campaign, and that the United Nations had been unable to protect them so far, Mr. Nambiar said he did not believe the events could be described as ethnic cleansing at the present stage, but it was clear that the attacks were targeted. Victims had given evidence that specific Muslim households and habitations had been identified for attack, but the victims had not been able to identify those directly behind the violence.
He said current efforts, including by the Muslim leadership, were focused on stressing the message of harmony so that the victims could resume their lives and avoid any further spread of intolerance-based violence in the community. It was important to encourage that process, “and, of course, eventually to find out who was responsible and to take action against the culprits”.
Among United Nations officials voicing concern over the violence earlier this month was Adama Dieng, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. Last week, President Sein declared a state of emergency in central Myanmar.
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