BANGKOK: A group of 20 foreign diplomats who visited Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where half a million ethnic Rohingya Muslims fled recent violence, have urged the government to allow access by humanitarian groups and by a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of human rights violations.

But the Myanmar president’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, said on Tuesday the government would stick by its earlier decision to bar the UN mission. It has said the group, assembled after similar violence last October, was interfering in Myanmar’s affairs.

The diplomats, taken Monday on a guided government tour of the affected area, said in a joint statement that there was a dire need for humanitarian aid.

The crisis in Rakhine has drawn international concern because of the exodus of more than 500,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in just a month’s time. The violence began when the army retaliated for raids on government security posts on Aug. 25 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an insurgent group.

Human rights groups charge that the army has abused and killed civilians and burned down thousands of homes.

The diplomats’ statement condemned the insurgents’ initial attacks as well as the violence that followed it.

“We saw villages which had been burned to the ground and emptied of inhabitants. The violence must stop,” it said. “The security forces have an obligation to protect all people in Rakhine without discrimination and to take measures to prevent acts of arson.”

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2017

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