Foreign envoys in Myanmar say villages burned to ground

Ambassadors of 20 mostly western countries based in Myanmar in a joint statement has said they saw Rohingya villages were burned to the ground with residents fleeing elsewhere while visiting the Rakhine state, the scene of the violent military crackdown.

“We saw villages which had been burned to the ground and emptied of inhabitants . .

. The violence must stop,” the envoys said after their visit to the region under a government-sponsored tour yesterday.

The envoys said “we saw on our visit the dire humanitarian need” and “we call once more for unimpeded humanitarian access to northern Rakhine and resumption of life-saving services without discrimination throughout the state”.

The foreign envoys tour and subsequent statement came five weeks after the army clampdown to flush out alleged terrorists from the region sparked one of the world’s worst exoduses with the ethnic minority people fleeing their homes to escape atrocities.

“The security forces have an obligation to protect all people in Rakhine without discrimination and to take measures to prevent acts of arson,” the statement read.

It added: “We have stressed to the Union and State Government (of Myanmar) and to local authorities in Rakhine that the people we saw during this visit must not be subject to, and should be protected from, any reprisals, such as physical attacks or arbitrary arrest.”

The statement said “investigation of allegations of human rights violations needs to be carried out by experts” since the envoys visit “was not an investigation mission and could not be in the circumstances”.

The diplomats urged them to allow the UN Fact-Finding Mission to visit Rakhine.

The envoys, however, also reiterated “our condemnation of the ARSA attacks of 25 August and our deep concern about violence and mass displacement since”.

Myanmar authorities arranged the envoys tour to Northern Rakhine amid escalated global outrage over the treatment of Rohingyas forcing so far over 500,000 of them to cross into Bangladesh to take makeshift refuge.

The envoys represented the United States, the European Union, Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain, Sweden and Finland.

Indonesian ambassador was the lone non-western foreign envoy included in the delegation for the tour while the statement said the diplomats visited a number of villages in Maungdaw and Rathedaung districts and met a mixture of local communities in Northern Rakhine.

The statement, however, welcomed the commitment of the State Counsellor to address human rights violations in accordance with strict norms of justice but “we call again on the Myanmar authorities to fully investigate allegations of human rights violations and bring prosecutions against those responsible”.

“We encourage the Myanmar Government to move quickly to enable the voluntary, dignified and safe return to their places of origin of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to Bangladesh,” the statement said.

“As friends of Myanmar we remain ready to work with the Myanmar Government to help Rakhine reach its potential,” it said.

It said the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has set out recommendations for a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for all communities in the state, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or citizenship status.

“We support full implementation of the (Kofi Anan) report,” the statement read.

The envoys expected their visit to be the “only the very first step in an urgently needed opening up of access for all, including to media, to all parts of Northern Rakhine”.

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