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U.S. envoy Power urges Myanmar action to stop Rakhine violence

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks to the media after voting on a resolution approving U.N. peacekeepers for Central African Republic, at the U.N. headquarters in New York, April 10, 2014. (Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

April 18, 2014

UNITED NATIONS - U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Thursday urged the Myanmar government to intervene in Rakhine State to stop violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Power's remarks came after U.N. special adviser on Myanmar Vijay Nambiar briefed the 15-member U.N. Security Council on Thursday on the crisis in the country formerly known as Burma.

At least 237 have been killed in religious violence in Myanmar since June 2012 and more than 140,000 displaced, many of them stateless Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, one of Myanmar's poorest regions that is home to 1 million Rohingya.

U.N. officials have warned that the violence poses a serious threat to the country's dramatic economic and political reforms as it emerges from a half century of military rule.

"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.

Aid agencies were forced to halt operations in Rakhine late last month when hundreds of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists destroyed staff homes, offices and warehouses as well as boats used to transport supplies.

Aid groups have long drawn the ire of some Rakhine Buddhists who accuse them of favoring the Rohingya. Humanitarian groups reject accusations of bias toward Muslims and many workers say they have been threatened and intimidated.

"There was a lot of concern expressed around the table about the situation in Rakhine, also about the negotiations on the constitution, and also some praise for the moves that have been made on the peace process," Britain's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Peter Wilson said after the Security Council briefing.

He called for an end to the violence in Rakhine State and for the return of aid workers.

Myanmar describes the Rohingya as Bengalis, a term that implies they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Many say they have lived in Rakhine for generations.

"The people of Burma have the chance to choose a future of democracy and human rights for all, and to reject manipulation, fear, and division. The government must take urgent steps to avoid more violence and to prevent setbacks on the journey to democracy and prosperity," Power said.

Myanmar President Thein Sein heads a quasi-civilian government installed in 2011 after Myanmar's military stepped aside. Under his reforms, opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, has been allowed back into politics and has made a number of visits abroad.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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