Myanmar violence forces foreign aid workers into flight

AP, YANGON, Myanmar

Sun, Mar 30, 2014 - Page 5

Soldiers and police patrolled streets in western Myanmar and surveyed the damage on Friday after Buddhist mobs attacked offices and homes of international aid workers, forcing the relocation of almost all staff from the troubled state of Rakhine.

Twenty-nine houses, seven warehouses and two motor vehicles — all in the state capital, Sittwe — were damaged, it said.

Paula Schriefer, head of the US delegation to the Human Rights Council, called on Myanmar’s government to hold accountable those responsible.

“It is long overdue for the government of [Burmese President] U Thein Sein to take the decisive action necessary to prevent these acts, address the core problems in Rakhine state — including the continued lack of adequate security forces and rule of law on the ground — and create conditions for sustainable peace and development,” she said in a statement.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, emerged from a half-century of military rule in 2011. However, new-found freedoms of expression have given voice to religious hatred, causing violence that has left up to 280 people dead and sent another 240,000 fleeing their homes.

Most of the victims have been members of the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

Aid groups that have been providing care for those now living in crowded camps — where they have little access to food, education or health care — have for months faced threats and intimidation from ethnic Buddhists in Rakhine, hampering their ability to work.

The violence made it impossible.

“As for now, no aid services are functioning in the region. If humanitarian aid cannot be restarted quickly, this will have a severe impact on the ground,” Malteser International secretary-general Ingo Radtke said. The group estimated that 90 percent of all aid groups in Sittwe had been targeted.

“We are very concerned that the riots might also spread to neighboring district,” Radtke added.