15 June 2012
A United Nations team led by Mr. Vijay Nambiar, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General and Mr. Ashok Nigam, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, visited Maungdaw, in Rakhine State on 13-14 June. Mr. Nambiar was in Myanmar for the Peace Donor Support Group meeting. On 8 June, serious disturbances occurred in Rakhine State which led to the Government declaring a state of emergency in the State. The UN also temporarily relocated, on a voluntary basis, some of its staff that were based in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe.
In view of these developments, the Resident Coordinator requested the Government for a visit by Mr. Nambiar and himself to Rakhine State and are very grateful for the invitation of the Minister for Border Affairs to accompany him on his visit on 13 June to Maungdaw. During his visit to Maungdaw, the Minister was also accompanied from Sittwe by 15 Islamic clergy. At Sittwe airport, the UN team also met with the President of the Myanmar Football Association who presented a cheque to the Government for relief efforts in the State.
The mission accompanied the Minister on his visit to the camps of the internally displaced people (IDPs) in three monasteries and one police compound in Maungdaw and visited one of the villages that had been burnt and another village next to a village that had been partly burnt. Mr. Nambiar spoke to the IDPs, Buddhist monks in the monasteries and heard from some of the villagers belonging to the Islamic faith.
The team of UN officials also had an opportunity to review the situation with the objective of being able to respond to the request from the Government for urgent humanitarian assistance for the affected people in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe.
The mission was informed that around 15,000 people had been internally displaced in the State – around 10,000 in Sittwe, 3,500 in Maungdaw and 1,000 in Buthidaung, though these numbers are now reported to be over 30,000. Speaking to the IDPs, the Special Advisor expressed concern and sympathy for their situation, called for calm and assured the support of the United Nations.
The Special Advisor notes with appreciation, the President’s speech, made as the disturbances arose, calling for magnanimity and promising the rule of law. His speech has again demonstrated the desire of the Government to continue the reform process. The Government’s response, he noted, was prompt, firm and sensitive. The visit of the Minister for Border Affairs to bring about peace and harmony is a good step in the process than now needs to be launched for the communities to come together and live in peace as they have been doing for a number of years.
Although the mission did not visit Sittwe town, it has come to the attention of the UN that the extent of destruction of both the Rakhine and Islamic community in Sittwe is very large. These people are currently facing immense hardship.
In view of the serious disturbances that have occurred in Rakhine State and in keeping with the commitment of the President for the rule of law to prevail, the Special Advisor calls for a full, impartial and credible investigation of the disturbances to be conducted urgently as well as to ensure that the rule of law is enforced in a transparent manner.
The UN has noted the immediate needs of the displaced populations. The UN will work with the Government and its humanitarian partners to meet these needs. Already more than 400 bags of rice have been distributed in the last two days. Additional food is being distributed by the UN to all the people in need in accordance with UN procedures which require food to be distributed according to the humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality.
The Government has indicated that food, shelter and medical assistance are urgently required. The UN will also conduct both a security and needs assessment to respond rapidly to the needs of the people. Subject to this, the UN is willing to deploy a team of international and national staff to work with a number of staff still working in Rakhine State to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the people there.