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November 21, 2012

UN Unveils New Plan to Tackle Unrest in Burma

by VOA News

The United Nations on Wednesday announced a revised plan for addressing the humanitarian crisis in Burma's western Rakhine state, after the nation's president last week pledged to take action on behalf of those affected by the region's ethnic sectarian conflict.  

The U.N. announced a significant increase in aid money needed for Rakhine state after renewed violence broke out there last month between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. That revised plan requires $67.6 million to provide critical assistance for one year for 115,000 people displaced by the clashes. The U.N. said it has only received about $27 million so far.

Until now, the government has directed the humanitarian response. Border Affairs Minister Thein Htay has been responsible for security in Rakhine state, and he launched the plan in Rangoon on Wednesday. He said security forces have done their best to enforce the rule of law.

​​"And also we have some units for special investigations to discover the instigation elements which will cause further violence, and in the meantime you have the activities of search and raids of the weapons," Htay said.

Violence between the Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state first broke out in June, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency. The disturbances have left at least 170 people dead.  

Most of the displaced are the Rohingya, the stateless Muslim minority considered one of the world's most persecuted people. Thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma by boat, with uncertain destinations.

Humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have had to shut down operations in the affected areas, partially for the safety of their staff.  United Nations resident coordinator Ashok Nigam recently visited Rakhine state for a rapid needs assessment, and emphasized that the U.N. has been impartial thus far in addressing the needs of affected people.

​​"We believe there are people of both communities who are in need, but we have to prioritize the resources that we get in order to try and assure that the people who have the greatest need in some of these areas are addressed first," said Nigam.

International rights groups have condemned the government for not taking action to stop the violence, and not allowing unfettered access for humanitarian aid.

During his visit to Burma, U.S. President Barack Obama called for more attention to the situation and for the government to push for national reconciliation.

The situation has sparked added scrutiny of a government that otherwise is drawing international praise for its political and economic opening.

Because Burma tightly controls reporting by foreign correspondents, VOA is withholding the names of the reporters involved in this story to protect their identity and ensure their ability to continue reporting from the region.