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Foreign Minister Davutoğlu visits Myanmar’s Muslim minority in Arakan

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had made a first visit to the region in August 2012 together with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s wife, Emine Erdoğan. AA photo

November 15, 2013

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has visited Myanmar’s Arakan (Rakhine) region in the northwest of the country on Nov. 15 where the Muslim Rohingya people predominantly live, providing assistance for those staying in camps following last year’s ethnic violence.

Davutoğlu was accompanied by a delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) during his visit. 

“Myanmar has accepted, perhaps for the first time in its history, such a visit from an international delegation and opened Arakan. This is a positive step, hopefully we will continue our efforts to relieve the pains of our brothers there,” Davutoğlu told reporters following his visit.

“All parties have a particular respect for Turkey, because we have provided assistance without making any discrimination. We also have an open, honest and transparent dialogue with Myanmar’s government,” Davutoğlu said. 

Turkey was one of the countries voicing the strongest reaction when the ethnic conflict in Arakan intensified last year. Davutoğlu made a first visit to the region in August 2012 together with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s wife, Emine Erdoğan, as a huge number of refugees were fleeing the region.

“The people who welcomed us [last year] said, ‘You kept your promise, you came again. We did not expect it.’ Old people and young people came to embrace us. We told them that we will never abandon them,” said Davutoğlu, adding he had invited the leaders of both the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists to Turkey. 

“[The Buddhist leaders] have very serious prejudices towards Muslims and the OIC. But they try to build their arguments on past experiences. It was a very friendly exchange of opinions,” Davutoğlu said.

“I invited [the leaders of both communities] so they can gather in a context where they can break their prejudices and understand each other better. I don’t know whether it will be possible or not, but at least we have transmitted the warmth of our hearts.”

Davutoğlu said that he referred to the catastrophe in the Philippines to encourage better ties between the communities. “If tomorrow there is a Tsunami or a typhoon such as the one in the Philippines, will your neighbors not save you, or will you not you save your brothers? I asked to try to break their prejudices."

Davutoğlu also stressed the importance on giving citizenship rights to the Rohingya people. 

OIC chief Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and several ministers from the Islamic body have met top government officials to discuss sectarian violence that has gripped the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million. More than 240 people have died and 240,000 others fled their homes during the last year, many of them Rohingya Muslims hunted down by Buddhist Rakhine mobs, occasionally as security forces watched.

Davutoğlu is set to make a two-day visit to Washington where he will meet with the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

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