Myanmar vows to protect aid workers after Buddhist attacks

Buddhist mobs moved from home to home, office to office, throwing rocks and in some cases entering the premises.

A man stands in front of a mosque as it burns in Meikhtila, Myanmar March 21, 2013. Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters
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YANGON// Myanmar vowed on Wednesday to protect UN and humanitarian aid workers seeking to return to the strife-torn state of Rakhine after rampaging Buddhist mobs attacked the workers’ homes and offices.

State-run media also said on Wednesday the government would expose those who orchestrated and joined last month’s rioting.

Myanmar has come under mounting international pressure to restore life-saving aid in the state, which is home to around 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims, who the UN considers one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world.

More than 140,000 are living in crowded camps and are dependent on food, water and medical care provided by international relief organisations after their neighbourhoods were destroyed by Buddhist extremists.

Some aid workers have tried to return in recent days but have been denied necessary permits.

The government released a statement saying it would cooperate with the aid groups and provide them with “full security.”

It also pointed to the failings by Rakhine state authorities to act promptly when the violence in the state capital, Sittwe, started.

Over days, the mobs moved from home to home, office to office, throwing rocks and in some cases entering the premises.

The government said 14 offices, 16 homes and 15 warehouses were targeted, together with 14 vehicles, two boats, 29 motorcycles and office equipment valued at $430,000.

Aid groups said privately they were eager to return to Rakhine but that resuming their aid activities would be difficult in the current climate, where any assistance given to Rohingya is viewed by Buddhist extremists as a political act.

The aid groups’ distribution network has, for the most part, been dismantled.

Water and food shortages in some camps have reached critical levels and food rations are expected to run out in the next week, aid workers say. Most emergency medical services have stopped.

The biggest provider of humanitarian assistance, Doctors Without Borders, was kicked out of the state in February, a month before the rioting, in part because it hired Rohingya. There were no indications Wednesday it would be allowed to return like the others.

* Associated Press