Myanmar vows to protect riot-hit aid agencies
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Last Updated: Wednesday, April 09, 2014, 14:43
  
Yangon: Myanmar pledged today to protect international aid groups targeted by Buddhist mobs in a violence-torn western region, after a chorus of concern from foreign governments and the United Nations.

Following an unusually swift investigation, Myanmar's reformist government conceded it was slow to respond to unrest that forced humanitarian workers to flee Rakhine state last month, leaving thousands facing looming food and water shortages.

It vowed to "provide effective security to foreigners from the UN and other international organisations", according to a statement on the President's Office website.

"The security of personnel; offices and homes as well as their working environments will be protected," it added.

In a rare admission, the statement also found authorities did not respond "quickly and effectively" to protect the aid groups as rioters ransacked offices of aid groups in Sittwe, the state capital. The violence prompted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to telephone Myanmar's President Thein Sein to appeal for the protection of civilians and aid staff.

The United States has voiced alarm over the treatment of relief workers, while Britain on Monday summoned Myanmar's ambassador to express "deep concern".

Security forces eventually stepped in to guard damaged buildings, after mobs hurled stones, smashed property and looted warehouses of foreign humanitarian groups in a region where sectarian strife has displaced tens of thousands.

One young girl was killed in the riots.

More than 170 aid workers fled the state after the attacks, which the report said took place after a staff member of Germany-based medical aid group Malteser International lowered a Buddhist flag outside her rented house. The President's Office statement said authorities will "expose the ringleaders and others involved in the riots".

International relief groups have come under huge pressure in Rakhine from local Buddhists who accuse them of bias towards Muslims.

Animosity between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine erupted into bloodshed in 2012, leaving dozens dead in clashes and around 140,000 people displaced.

Buddhist flags were hung across the city as part of protests against Muslims in the run-up to a controversial census, which many Buddhists vowed to boycott over fears it be a platform for Muslims to claim political rights.

AFP

First Published: Wednesday, April 09, 2014, 14:43


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