Diplomats seek greater access to Myanmar's Rakhine


UN officials and foreign diplomats who visited Myanmar's western Rakhine state on Monday called on the government for greater access to the region where more than 500,000 Rohingya villagers fled to Bangladesh to escape a military crackdown.

A total of 48 UN officials and foreign diplomats based in the commercial capital, Yangon, made the one-day visit to the Maungdaw area of Rakhine on Monday to learn about conditions there, according to the Myanmar government.

"We saw on our visit the dire humanitarian need. We call once more for unimpeded humanitarian access to northern Rakhine and the resumption of life-saving services without discrimination throughout the state," said the statement issued by foreign corps late Monday.

The diplomats met some Rohingya villagers who had not fled and family members of non-Muslim victims who the government alleged had been killed by the Rohingya and also visited some villages allegedly attacked on Aug. 25.

"This was not an investigation mission and could not be in the circumstances," it said, adding the government should allow a UN fact-finding mission into the region.

"An investigation of allegations of human rights violations needs to be carried out by experts."

The diplomats stressed to the authorities that the people they met during their visit must not be subject to, and should be protected from, any reprisals such as physical attacks or arbitrary arrest.

"We sincerely hope that our visit is only the very first step in an urgently needed opening up of access for all, including the media, to all parts of northern Rakhine," said the statement.

The statement was signed by Ambassador Nicholas Coppel, Australia; Ambassador Karen MacArthur, Canada; Ambassador Jaroslav Dolecek, Czech Republic; Ambassador Peter Lysholt Hansen, Denmark; Ambassador Olivier Richard, France; Ambassador Ito Sumardi, Indonesia; Ambassador Giorgio Aliberti, Italy; Ambassador Wouters Jurgens, the Netherlands; Ambassador Steve Marshall, New Zealand; Ambassador Tone Tinnes, Norway; Ambassador Miodrag Nikolin, Serbia; Ambassador Paul Seger, Switzerland; Ambassador Kerem Divanlioglu, Turkey; Ambassador Scot Marciel, the United States; Ambassador-designate Kristian Schmidt, the European Union; Ambassador designate Dorothee Janetzke-Wenzel, Germany; Mr. Bibian Zamora Giménez, Chargée d'Affaires a.i. Spain; Mr. Johan Hallenborg, Head of the Swedish Section Office; Mr. David Hall, Deputy Head of Mission, the United Kingdom; Ms. Silja Rajander, Deputy Head of Mission, Finland.

Since Aug. 25 when the military launched a crackdown against Rohingya militants, 501,000 Rohingya have crossed from Myanmar's western state of Rakhine into Bangladesh, according to the UN.

The refugees are fleeing a military operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages.

According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

Turkey has been at the forefront of providing aid to Rohingya refugees, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has raised the issue at the UN.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

Last October, following attacks on border posts in Maungdaw district, security forces launched a five-month crackdown in which, according to Rohingya groups, around 400 people were killed.

The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

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