Myanmar restricting UN access to Rakhine despite cooperation agreement

The remains of burnt villages near Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State, on Oct. 10, 2017. Photo: AFP / Marion THIBAUT
The remains of burnt villages near Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State, on Oct. 10, 2017. Photo: AFP / Marion THIBAUT

Two UN agencies are being denied full access to northern Rakhine State, even after they signed an agreement with the Myanmar government to assist with the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh and contribute to the development of northern Rakhine State.

UNDP and UNHCR – the UN agencies for development and refugees – signed a secret agreement with Myanmar in June that would allow them to assist with the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh and the creation of conditions for their reintegration into life in Rakhine State. The agreement states that the Myanmar government will “ensure that UNDP and UNHCR have effective access to all areas in Rakhine State covered by this MoU.”

Nonetheless, the government has only offered the agencies’ staff access to a small number of villages in norther Rakhine State. The UN has rejected the government’s limited offer, opting to wait for a better one.

UN resident and humanitarian coordinator Knut Ostby told Reuters that his staff are “standing ready to go when we have effective access.”

“We need to have the possibility to do a proper job,” he said.

Yesterday, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi announced that the UN had been granted access to 23 villages as part of a “pilot assessment program”.

Ostby said he did not know how the villages were selected, adding that the fact that they are spread out across northern Rakhine State rather than near each other poses the risk of “inequality among neighboring villages”, which the UN has tried to avoid.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told Reuters that if the UN wants to operate in villages other than the selected 23, it would need to renegotiate with the government.

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CITY: YANGONCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: POLITICS

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