By Bangkok Post
Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi should accept a call by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to allow its aid workers access to people caught up in a conflict that has displaced tens of thousands.
The world expects Myanmar to adhere to universal humanitarian principles.
ICRC chief Peter Maurer who is in Myanmar this week stressed that the ICRC should be provided with access to people in need so they are able to carry out their assignments properly.
During his stay, Mr Maurer visited the northwestern state of Rakhine, where he toured camps set up almost five years ago to house those displaced by communal clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
Yet, he did not visit the northern part of the state, where a security operation in response to insurgent attacks in October sent an estimated 74,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh. Troops and police have been accused of killing and raping Rohingya, who are being denied citizenship in Myanmar and are seen as interlopers from Bangladesh by the Myanmar government.
The violent crackdown on Muslim protesters in this troubled region last year escalated the Rohingya crisis and put the solidarity of the 10-member Asean block to the test when Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, sensationalised the incident and condemned Nay Pyi Taw for restricting assistance from outside and largely blocked the media from reporting on it.
The Myanmar government only recently allowed international aid workers to visit affected villages, under the condition that they are accompanied by government officials. A separate ICRC delegation visited detainees in the area last month.
Mr Maurer was scheduled to visit Kachin State in the northern part of the country this week, but the government denied a request to visit the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) stronghold of Laiza, prompting him to raise concerns.
The ICRC is assisting a civilian hospital there, but staff have not been able to visit since fighting between the KIA and government forces broke out eight months ago.
Mr Maurer was scheduled to meet Myanmar officials in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday and will meet Ms Suu Kyi in Beijing during an international conference next week.
Former political prisoner and democracy icon, Ms Suu Kyi led her party, the National League for Democracy, to power when she won a landslide victory in the landmark election of 2015.
As the current constitution does not allow her to take on the top cabinet job, Ms Suu Kyi became the de facto head of the civilian administration. But she still has to tread with care in tackling difficult issues such as the Rohingya crisis and the stalled peace process in order to maintain a steady relationship with Myanmar generals.
Obviously, her priority of securing peace with autonomy-seeking minority insurgents has been set back by the fighting that has displaced an estimated 160,000 more people since the transition, according to UN data.
Mr Maurer said access to conflict areas was “always a difficult equation of security considerations versus needs of people for assistance and protection,” but he was “unsatisfied” by the limits in place in Myanmar.
He has every right to feel upset, and accordingly escalated his call for more access that, he said, would be in the interests of the government and the armed forces.
The de facto leader of Myanmar should be aware that the world is watching what is going on in the country with grave concern and and that it expects Nay Pyi Taw to react positively to the call to allow aid workers to do their jobs and save lives.