BANGKOK (AlertNet) – The United Nations’ humanitarian chief has called on the Myanmar government to allow aid agencies to provide "desperately needed" aid to tens of thousands of people displaced in northern Myanmar since June 2011 as a result of fighting between the army and ethnic rebels.
“The U.N. has not been allowed access to provide badly needed assistance to some 39,000 people in areas outside the government’s control since July 2012,” Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said in a statement released on Thursday.
“Local partners are providing food and other assistance but their stocks are depleted and with the winter months approaching, getting more supplies in is critical,” she said.
“We have substantial experience working in insecure environments... We hope the government will give us permission to travel to these areas and provide the aid that is so desperately needed,” said Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Aid agencies and rights groups estimate that about 75,000 people have been displaced in Kachin state and northern Shan states since a 17-year-old ceasefire between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down in 2011 over long-standing grievances.
Local aid organisations said in June that many people are living in squalid conditions with little aid, and accused the military of human rights abuses, including the rape of and sexual assaults on ethnic women.
On Thursday Amos visited a displacement camp in a government-controlled area outside Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin, where some 700 people are housed. The camp receives regular assistance from aid organisations.
The government that came to power in March 2011, after half a century of military rule, has embarked on a range of reforms that have boosted media freedom, changed labour laws and led to ceasefire talks with ethnic rebel groups.
The government has reached ceasefire agreements with about a dozen groups but talks with the KIA and its political leaders have yet to bear fruit.
About a third of Myanmar's 60 million people belong to ethnic minorities and many of them resent what they see as domination by the majority Burman community.
RECONCILIATION NEEDED IN RAKHINE
Amos also visited Rakhine state in western Myanmar where two waves of sectarian violence between Buddhist Rakhine and stateless Muslim Rohingya in June and October displaced more than 115,000 people, mainly Rohingya.
A Reuters investigation found the wave of attacks was organised and led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks and, some witnesses said, abetted at times by local security forces.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Amos expressed concern over the conditions in some of the camps. “In Myebon, I saw thousands of people in overcrowded, substandard shelter with poor sanitation,” she said. “They don’t have jobs, children are not in school and they can’t leave the camp because their movement is restricted. The situation is dire.”
Amos said she was “shocked to see so many soldiers everywhere keeping communities away from each other” as tensions remained high, and called for reconciliation.
She also said security threats to humanitarian workers are a major challenge to providing help in Rakhine state.
In November, Medecins Sans Frontieres told AlertNet it was unable to provide healthcare to the displaced because of threats against its staff by hardline Rakhine nationalists.
In the same month, Human Rights Watch released new satellite imagery showing widespread destruction of homes and property in areas largely inhabited by the Rohingya.
Rights groups say the Rohingya face some of the worst discrimination in the world.
Myanmar's Buddhist-majority public regards the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in the country as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh who deserve neither rights nor sympathy.
Bangladesh regards them as foreigners and has turned back Rohingyas fleeing the violence in Myanmar. The United Nations has referred to them as "virtually friendless".