MYANMAR: Government frees two UN employees

BANGKOK, 30 August 2012 (IRIN) - Two local UN staff have been released after being sentenced in a Burmese court for involvement in sectarian violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, says the UN.
“We welcome the release of our colleagues and hope that the remaining aid workers in detention will also be released,” Aye Win, UN spokesman in Myanmar, told IRIN on 30 August.
The two men - employees of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) - were released, together with a third aid official working for a UNHCR partner organization.
Their release follows a presidential pardon by Burmese President Thein Sein announced on 28 August.
A court in the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine State had sentenced the three men - all Burmese Muslims - to undisclosed prison terms on 24 August.
Five more men, including one employee of UNHCR, two men working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and two for Action Against Hunger (ACF), however, remain in detention.
“This is a positive step, but we hope the remaining aid workers will be set free soon,” said UNHCR regional spokeswoman Vivian Tan.
The aid workers were arrested on charges of alleged involvement in communal violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in June which left dozens dead, hundreds of homes destroyed, and almost 70,000 displaced.
The Burmese government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine on 10 June and brought in the military to help restore order.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the displaced are currently being housed in 63 camps in Sittwe, Kyauktaw and Maungdaw townships; nine camps in Sittwe are sheltering nearly 60,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), many of them Rohingya.
The Rohingya - an ethnic, linguistic and Muslim minority numbering about 800,000 - have long faced persecution in Myanmar, where they are stateless under Burmese law, rights activists say.
Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they are viewed as illegal migrants, and fare little better, with few legal rights and few employment opportunities.
Following the June violence, the Bangladesh government went on record as saying it was effectively closing its doors to a possible fresh influx from across its border.
Today most Rohingya in Bangladesh live in squalor, receive limited aid and remain vulnerable to arrest, extortion and even physical attack.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are some 200,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 28,000 are documented and living in two government camps assisted by the agency. Close to 11,000 live at the Kutupalong camp, with another 17,000 farther south at Nayapara - both within 2km of the Burmese border.

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]