Government spokesman Ye Htut is accusing Reuters news agency of distorted reporting, following a report on Tuesday that quoted a senior United Nations aid official’s blunt reaction to her visit to camps for internally displaced persons in Rakhine State.
“In Rakhine, I witnessed a level of human suffering in IDP camps that I have personally never seen before,” deputy emergency relief coordinator Kyung-Wha Kang was quoted as saying by Reuters. “Men, women, and children [are] living in appalling conditions with severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, both in camps and isolated villages,” she said.
Ye Htut said the Reuters report was one-sided because it did not include comments from a Union government delegation that visited the state last week. President’s Office Minister Soe Thein led the delegation. It visited IDP camps and met with representatives of the 15 international non-governmental organisations that work in them.
Ye Htut accused Reuters of peddling false new about the situation in Rakhine State to the international community and compared Tuesday’s report to reports of an alleged massacre in Ducheertan village earlier this year. The Associated Press and the Irrawaddy first reported allegations of a massacre in the village in Rakhine’s Maungtaw Township in mid January. However, subsequent investigations by government teams, including a commission led by Dr Tha Hla Shwe – the highly respected chairman of the Myanmar Red Cross Society – found no forensic evidence that a massacre had occurred.
Media outlets around the globe picked up Tuesday’s Reuters report. It has followed scores of other reports describing the situation in the state as a worsening global humanitarian crisis that could undermine Myanmar’s reform efforts.
The UN’s Kang also attempted to visit IDP camps in Kachin State but was only able to access one, in an area controlled by union government troops. She called for greater access to the camps for humanitarian organisations, saying that there needs to be “regular, predictable, and sustained access to all IDPs” in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) as well as the areas controlled by the Union government.
There are about 140,000 IDPs in Rakhine State and another 100,000 in Kachin. The former were displaced by communal violence in 2012 and the latter by armed conflict following the breakdown of a 17-year cease-fire between the KIA and the government in June 2011.
Kang visited Myanmar last week but made her comments at press conference in New York on Tuesday.
She also said “the safety and security of the United Nations staff and other aid workers would remain at risk until the Myanmar authorities brought to justice the people behind the attacks against United Nations offices in March”.
The attacks prompted staff of international NGOs to flee the state. Ethnic Rakhine citizens have long accused international NGOs of showing bias in the distribution of aid and of advocating internationally on behalf of a stateless Muslim minority they regard as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. There are an estimated 1 million so-called Bengalis in the state of about 3 million people, with the majority concentrated in the three most northern townships. Ethnic Rakhine activists accuse the Bengalis of displacing Buddhists from these townships.
Ye Htut said statement’s like Kang’s could potentially cause ethnic Rakhine residents of the state to be “suspicious” of international organisations, including the UN. He said the government would ask the UN why its representatives were making such statements without consulting local residents of the state and its government first.
Tuesday’s Reuters report was, however, followed by another today by the global news agency that labelled the situation in Rakhine as “apartheid”. A report in Time magazine earlier this week described the IDP camps as “concentration camps”.