UN slams Myanmar for lack of access to Rakhine state after convoy witnessed ‘unimaginable’ suffering
The lack of humanitarian access granted by Myanmar’s government to Rakhine state, where over half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence, was “unacceptable”, the UN said on Friday.
“The access we have in northern Rakhine state is unacceptable,” Mark Lowcock, head of the UN humanitarian office, told reporters in Geneva.
A small UN team visited the crisis-wracked region in majority Buddhist Myanmar in recent days and described witnessing “unimaginable” suffering.
Myanmar has tightly controlled access to the state since last month when attacks by Rohingya militants prompted an army kickback that has sent 515,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
Scores of Rohingya villages have been torched.
Lowcock said he believed “a high level” UN team would be able to visit the area “in the next few days”.
He repeated the UN’s call for the government to allow “unhindered (and) unfettered” access.
“Half a million people do not pick up sticks and flee their country on a whim,” Lowcock said, stressing that the scale of the exodus was evidence of a severe crisis in northern Rakhine.
He said the UN had “substantial capacity” in Myanmar which it could quickly deploy to Rakhine upon getting clearance.
A Myanmar official tally says hundreds of people died as violence consumed remote communities, including the Rohingya.
Hindus and ethnic Rakhine were also among the dead.
Rights groups say the real death toll is likely to be much higher, especially among the Rohingya, while the UN has labelled army operations as “ethnic cleansing” against the group.
There may be up to 100,000 more people in northern Rakhine waiting to cross into Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration.