Major fighting in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state has so far been avoided, a top UN humanitarian official there said following some clashes between armed rebels and national security forces who are increasing the number of troops there.
In an interview with UN News, Knut Ostby, the acting resident and humanitarian coordinator for Myanmar, reiterated calls for all sides “to find a peaceful solution to the situation”, amid concern “that there could be a quite immediate escalation of fighting”.
It is also vital that humanitarian access is improved to help all those affected by the violence, Ostby said.
Some 4,500 people have been displaced in the fighting in recent weeks, Ostby noted, adding that the Myanmar authorities have announced that they intend to “crush” the so-called Arakan Army insurgents.
“I think the situation, as far as we know, has not broken out to major fighting, but there have been more troop build-ups,” Ostby said before expressing shock at attacks on police outposts last Friday that claimed 13 officers’ lives.
The latest violence comes amid a wider pattern of sporadic but at times intense fighting between ethnic groups and the authorities in Myanmar dating back more than 70 years in some cases, since independence in January, 1948.
Noting that humanitarian access to communities in need of help in Rakhine state “has not improved since 2017”, when some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled violence there to neighbouring Bangladesh, the UN official warned that facilities were not in place to cope with yet more mass movement of people.
An estimated 6,00,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine state, the UN official explained.
“We are worried that if there is new major displacement and new need for major humanitarian assistance that the access we are having will not be sufficient to deliver the assistance needed,” Ostby said, noting that the violence risked affecting “all ethnic groups”.
Although a ceasefire is in place in northern and eastern areas of Myanmar, the UN official explained, “It does not include Rakhine state, and that is why we are worried that there will be new escalation that would lead to new suffering of the civilian population.”
The United Nations will continue to maintain contact with local authorities in Rakhine state as well as the central government to “try to do more on the humanitarian and development side” in Myanmar, Ostby insisted while noting that “there is a lot more that could be done and should be done, if we had more access”.