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Aid Groups in Rakhine State Required to Report Activities in Advance

Police stand guard outside the destroyed offices of an international aid group in Sittwe on March 28, 2014 (Photo: AFP)

April 24, 2014

U.N. agencies and international humanitarian groups in Myanmar’s Rakhine state will be required to report on their activities in advance and receive approval for them from a government-led committee as part of new measures following the latest violence in the troubled state, a panel member said Wednesday.

The new rules come amid international calls for Myanmar to facilitate aid workers’ return to Rakhine amid a bitter humanitarian crisis following riots last month that led to the biggest disruption of aid in the area in years.

Aid groups who return will be required to submit information about their activities to the Emergency Coordination Center, a newly established body comprising state and central government officials as well as representatives from the United Nations, NGOs, and the local ethnic Rakhine community.

ECC member Than Tun, a Buddhist community leader in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, said after a meeting of the body Wednesday that aid groups will need to submit the information at least seven days in advance and receive approval for their planned activities.

“We agreed at today’s meeting that U.N. organizations and international NGOs must inform the ECC one week in advance on how they plan to help, how much aid, and where,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“They can begin their work when the ECC approves it,” he said.

Chased out

The new rules follow the expulsion of international NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) from Rakhine state and rioting in Sittwe on March 26 and 27 that chased other groups from the state.

In a rampage that saw a 13-year-old girl accidentally shot dead by police, mobs of hundreds of ethnic Rakhines ransacked and hurled stones at aid groups’ offices following reports that an aid worker from Malteser International had taken down a Buddhist flag.

The ECC confirmed at Wednesday’s meeting that it would not be giving Malteser International or Doctors Without Borders (MSF) permission to return.

Rakhine state government spokesman Win Myaing had said earlier this month that aid groups would need approval from the ECC to return to the state.

Win Myaing said humanitarian organizations had previously operated in Rakhine State under memoranda of understanding with the central government in Naypyidaw, but state officials were not kept informed, leading to problems, according to local news outlet Mizzima.

International concern

The U.N. and foreign governments have called on Myanmar to help aid workers return to Rakhine state, which has been torn by violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Rohingya Muslims in recent years.

U.N. officials have warned that the violence and the humanitarian crisis posed a serious threat to the country's dramatic economic and political reforms as it emerges from decades under military rule.

Last week the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power urged Myanmar to intervene to stop communal violence there and protect humanitarian workers in Rakhine.

"We continue to support Burma's reforms, but are greatly concerned that without effective government intervention violence in Rakhine could worsen, lives will be lost, and the critically needed humanitarian presence will not be sustainable," Power said in a statement, using another name for Myanmar.

"The government must take urgent steps to avoid more violence and to prevent setbacks on the journey to democracy and prosperity,” she said.

In a meeting with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw earlier this month, a senior U.S. diplomat, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, raised concerns about the humanitarian workers’ lack of access to Rakhine State.

Aid workers who fled Rakhine state following the riots warned of a growing humanitarian crisis for thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims living in refugee camps in the state following sectarian violence in the state in 2012.

The workers were providing assistance to 140,000 Rohingyas living in crowded displacement camps near the city of Sittwe and more than 700,000 other vulnerable people in remote, hard-to-reach villages.

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

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