‘People are dying’: UN official urges aid access for Myanmar’s Rakhine state

UN investigators have called for senior military officers to be prosecuted over allegations of mass killings, gang rapes and arson. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 May 2019

‘People are dying’: UN official urges aid access for Myanmar’s Rakhine state

  • Rakhine has been in the global spotlight since 2017, after roughly 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing a military crackdown in response to militant attacks
  • UN investigators have called for senior military officers to be prosecuted over allegations of mass killings, gang rapes and arson

YANGON: A UN official has urged Myanmar to grant aid workers “predictable, sustained access” to Rakhine state, where fighting between government troops and rebels has displaced nearly 33,000 people since late last year, saying lack of aid has cost lives.
Ursula Mueller, a UN assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said authorities had turned down her requests to meet those displaced by the conflict in a region barred to most aid groups since the fighting broke out.
“We need access – predictable, sustained access – to reach the people in need,” Muller told Reuters late on Tuesday, at the end of a six-day visit to the southeast Asian nation.
“If the assistance, including mobile clinics, cannot get to the people, they just don’t have the services and their needs are not being met and some people are dying.”
Reuters could not immediately reach a government spokesman to seek comment.
Rakhine has been in the global spotlight since 2017, after roughly 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing a military crackdown in response to militant attacks crossed into neighboring Bangladesh.
UN investigators have called for senior military officers to be prosecuted over allegations of mass killings, gang rapes and arson. The military denies widespread wrongdoing.
More recently, civilians have been caught up in clashes between the military and the Arakan Army, an insurgent group that recruits from the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population and is fighting for greater autonomy for the state.
During her visit, Mueller met senior officials in the capital, Naypyitaw, including state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi who said she was working toward “development and social cohesion” in Rakhine.
“I was pointing out the humanitarian needs that are existing that need to be urgently met,” she added.
Mueller also visited camps outside Sittwe, the state’s capital, where thousands of Rohingya have been confined since a previous bout of violence in 2012. Most lack citizenship and face curbs on movement and access to basic services.
Myanmar has been working with the UN on a strategy to close the camps, but it amounts to building new, more permanent homes in the same place rather than letting people return to areas from which they fled, Reuters reported last year.
Mueller, who is also a deputy coordinator for emergency relief, said she had discussed the strategy with officials.
“It’s not enough to erect buildings on the same site while the underlying causes are not addressed,” she added. “People have no freedom of movement. They are losing hope after seven years in this camp.”


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.