Aid Workers in Arakan Should Be More Sensitive to Local Customs: Official
BURMA

Aid Workers in Arakan Should Be More Sensitive to Local Customs: Official

human rights, Rohingya, Muslim, Buddhist, Arakan, Myanmar, Sittwe, Rakhine, ethnic conflict, religious conflict

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut talks to reporters on Saturday. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Presidential spokesman Ye Htut has said that international aid workers supporting communities in strife-torn Arakan State should be more sensitive to local customs, after a rumor that an aid worker improperly handled a Buddhist flag sparked attacks on the Sittwe offices of foreign aid organizations last week.

The medical aid organization Malteser International, whose employee stands accused of handling the flag in a disrespectful way, denies any wrongdoing.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting between President Thein Sein and political party leaders on Saturday, Ye Htu said, “People, both local and foreigners, working at international organizations should have a good understanding and be aware of local culture, customs and sensitive issues of the places where they are working.”

Last Wednesday, a Malteser International staffer removed a Buddhist flag from a building that the organization was renting as medicine warehouse in Sittwe. Some Arakanese Buddhist residents claim to have witnessed the foreign woman tuck the flag in the pocket of her pants—a move that would have been offensive to Buddhists, who believe that religious objects should not touch the lower part of the body.

The allegations swirled through Sittwe town and quickly proved an excuse for the residents to attack all international aid offices, while some mobs also went in search of the private residences of foreign staffers in order to try to break into their homes. Aid workers were brought to safety and stayed at Sittwe police station.

“It’s true that she took down the religious flag but, if whether she improperly handled the flag is still controversial,” Ye Htut said, adding that the aid worker should have explained to the Arakanese landlord that Malteser International does not allow religious or political symbols on its offices.

“What happened is the consequence of the fact that she wasn’t aware of the sensitive issue in the area,” he said, before adding, “[But] people shouldn’t attack an organization just because of an act by one of its staff.”

“Now they responded in their own ways that lead to unnecessary consequences that damaged the country and its people,” Ye Htut said.

Most Sittwe residents have put up Buddhist flags to signal their boycott of the UN-backed census, which they reject because it would allow Rohingya Muslims to self-identify their ethnicity, in accordance with international standards.

Malteser International on Friday denied its staffer had made any mistake, adding that the flag was an expression of political and ethnic partisanship and was therefore removed from its office building.

“[A]bsolute ethnic and political neutrality of our work is our highest priority … That is the reason why our program coordinator has removed the Buddhist flag which – in the local context – might be seen as a symbol for a political positioning,” Ingo Radtke, Secretary General of Malteser International, said in a statement

“She did not act in any degrading manner or express any cultural misconduct. As she noticed the population’s disapproval, she has immediately handed over the flag to the owner of the warehouse.”

Last week’s violence prompted President Thein Sein to set up a five-member investigation team led by the deputy minister for border affairs, state-owned media reported. The team will question staffers from international organizations and local people as well the Arakan State government about the violence, Ye Htut said. The findings must be sent to the president by April 7.

“So far no one has been arrested yet as security forces prioritized taking care of dispersing the mob and controlling the violence. But we have video footage and pictures of people involved. So the commission could find anyone involved,” he said Saturday.

“We roughly know that the people involved were not from Sittwe but from villages nearby,” he added.

Offices, residences and a warehouse of nine UN and international NGOs were destroyed by Arakanese mobs on Wednesday and Thursday, and 147 aid workers, both foreign and local, were forced to flee Sittwe, state-owned newspaper The Mirror reported. Aid organizations, which use Sittwe as their hub for aid programs in northern Arakan, were forced to shut down aid operations.

An 11-year-old Arakanese girl was killed by a stray bullet after police fired warning shots to disperse a mob attacking an office building on Thursday.

Sittwe’s predominantly Buddhist community is virulently anti-Rohingya—a stateless, impoverished Muslim minority living in northern Arakan State—and oppose any international humanitarian aid support for the group, which suffers from malnutrition and a range of other health problems.


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9 Responses to Aid Workers in Arakan Should Be More Sensitive to Local Customs: Official

  1. I agree with Mr. Ye Htut.
    The allegedly very experienced American staffer of Malteser International definitely made (at least partly) a fundamental mistake. Hopefully it doesn’t reflect her own political opinion referring the sensitive situation in Rakhine State.
    As her superior, I would have summoned her.
    But her (seemingly German)superior is still using smoothly polished defending tactics, instead of admitting that she made a mistake (for which she should have apologized). The case reflects that also many westerners are not fair judges.

  2. Instead of giving some lectures, government better provides security and safety to aid organizations. Myanmar is crude, rude, dude in the international community because of needless incident in Rakhine State against aid groups.

  3. “Sittwe’s predominantly Buddhist community is virulently anti-Rohingya” – well, is this what the Irrawaddy wants to preach? If the entire Myanmar is not anti-Rohingya, why has the entire country rose against the census where #914 was meant for the Rohingyas, the name which even the Myanmar government does not recognize because of its foreign origin, on what ground the Irrawaddy is still supporting it? Has the Irrawaddy editorial board been bribed to do so. or it has been given incentive by a foreign donor organization and the Islamists to do so? An international organization like Malteser may practise its policy of nonpartisanship to any religion, race, colour or language; but it cannot act against any religion or race or colour. It cannot take anti-religious stand, too. Secularism does not mean acting anti-religion.

  4. Absolute ethnic and political neutrality of our work is our highest priority …

    Question: Are you sure? Really?

    That is the reason why our program coordinator has removed the Buddhist flag which – in the local context – might be seen as a symbol for a political positioning,”
    Question:
    Do you have any right to say this? You came here for what and do you think you have right to do that. Do you think you are judge? Are you qualified to do this?

    Ingo Radtke, Secretary General of Malteser International, said in a statement

  5. “Absolute ethnic and political neutrality of our work is our highest priority … ” – that does not mean Malteser can do anything so foolish as desecrating a religious flag, an icon of the highest standard. If Malteser has done this to an Islamic flag in an Islamic country, the staff responsible must have either been charged with a number of nonbailable charges and the islamists have declared reward for their heads. Desecrating or removing a religious flag does not mean they are free of taking sides.

  6. People who are lecturing how to behave the experience Aid workers have small brains. These people changed their uniforms, pretend as civilian and elected by people. They should realize their qualification. Why try to fool other people. Killing lot of people, keeping remaining in camps and stopping their ration receiving from Aid Agency. Indirectly forcing them to die and disappear from this world. But nobody can escape from juctice for committed crimes. Justice will come very soon.

  7. @ Y
    Even the German Federal President impudently meddled with the “Rohingya case” during his state visit in Myanmar.
    That honorable person was used as a “mouthpiece” by Islamic organisations in Germany, which in a concerted action have supported political-religious aims being on the Pan-Islamic agenda referring Myanmar. Seemingly some NGOs are supporting those ideas or simply do not understand Islamic strategies and tactics.
    Malteser International might be innocent but a inconspicuous incident makes it doubtful. And who should understand this better than Germans, who often and eagerly are splitting even thin hairs.

  8. Mr Ye Htut is not wrong and not right he is just the press man of the Government and this is a marketing job to sell what goes best for what ever.
    Ma Khin Moe of course is absolutely right,– it was Ye Htut s Nay Pyi Taw and the Sittwe Gvernment s failure to protect NOT the INGOs – but the MOU which the Goverment signed with them. Here it is clear stated that they are Non Religious, Non Ethnical and exactly this , Dear Mr Ye Htut the Government must ensure through security but also through education to mobs and communities as the Cooperation Partner of the INGO s, The Government failed to do so. Simply on the plane of Vice President to Sittwe, on the helicopters of the Army, on the Uniforms of the police or army I never saw any Buddhist, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine or even 969 Flag,—- guess why. Cause they are independent, not always loved but ensured, same as the INGO s.
    Mr Ye Htut not easy,- your job,sure what you say not always reflects your opinion and believes,- but security and education of communities for and about INGO s would have been very very very easy for the Government equal to = No riots in Sittwe and no pain for all North Rakhine very soon, the people will pay the price, will make Dr Aye Maung and RNDP responsible and the winner is — guess again— right the present government in Sittwe and NPT as they will come as Santa Claus and rescue Rakhine when no one is there anymore,– could have been an Election Victory Manual for 2015 congratulation. Pity to Dr Aye Maung, RNDP or so and pity to the Rakhine people, self inflicted is always a double burden.

  9. Mr Ye Htut is not wrong and not right he is just the press man of the Government and this is a marketing job to sell what goes best for what ever. Sure it might not is personal view or believing but his Job only…..
    Ma Khin Moe of course is absolutely right,– it was Ye Htut s Nay Pyi Taw and the Sittwe Gvernment s failure to protect NOT the INGOs – but the MOU which the Goverment signed with them. Here it is clear stated that they are Non Religious, Non Ethnical and exactly this , Dear Mr Ye Htut the Government must ensure through security but also through education to mobs and communities as the Cooperation Partner of the INGO s, The Government failed to do so. Simply on the plane of Vice President to Sittwe, on the helicopters of the Army, on the Uniforms of the police or army I never saw any Buddhist, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine or even 969 Flag,also not on Y Htuts Taipong or before Uniform —- guess why. Cause they are independent, not always loved but ensured, same as the INGO s.
    Mr Ye Htut not easy,- your job,sure what you say not always reflects your opinion and believes,- but security and education of communities for and about INGO s would have been very very very easy for the Government equal to = No riots in Sittwe and no pain for all North Rakhine very soon, the people will pay the price, will make Dr Aye Maung and RNDP responsible and the winner is — guess again— right the present government in Sittwe and NPT as they will come as Santa Claus and rescue Rakhine when no one is there anymore,– could have been an Election Victory Manual for 2015 congratulation. Pity to Dr Aye Maung, RNDP or so and pity to the Rakhine people, self inflicted is always a double burden.

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