UN calls for further aid worker releases

By May Sandy
Volume 33, No. 641
August 27 - September 2, 2012

THE United Nations last week welcomed the release of some UN and international non-government organisation staff arrested in Rakhine State in June but called for the remaining aid workers in detention to also be released.

Speaking at a World Humanitarian Day event on August 19, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator, Mr Ashok Nigam, said the UN and its humanitarian partners work according to the principles of humanity, independence, neutrality and impartiality.

“Some [workers] still remain in detention and the government has informed me of their desire to consider their cases as well. I am hopeful that these considerations will lead to the release of all of our colleagues who are still in detention,” he said.

“We work with the support of and at the request of the government and the community and we seek the cooperation of all the people of Myanmar in helping them to help themselves.”

Meanwhile, the UN Information Centre last week confirmed that three humanitarian workers had been convicted of offences in Maungdaw District Court in Rakhine State on August 24. One of the individuals is a UN High Commission for Refugees, another is from a UNHCR partner organisation and the third works for the World Food Program.

UNIC information officer U Aye Win said on August 24 following the sentencing that the UN had not been informed of the sentence imposed or even the charges that the three individuals were facing. He said they were not represented by a lawyer during the trial.

The convictions come after five UN and INGO staff members were released from prisons in Buthidaung and Sittwe on August 15 and 16, after more than two months in detention.

U Zaw Myint from Médecins Sans Frontières Holland (Artsen zonder Grenzen, or AZG) and two UN staff members, U Saw Myint from UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and U Than Naing from World Food Program, were released from Buthidaung Prison on August 15. The following day, U Kyaw Hla Aung and U Win Naing from AZG were released in Sittwe.

U Kyaw Hla Aung told Radio Free Asia he had been accused of being linked to an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group and his home was raided by an unknown group searching for evidence against him.

About 10 aid workers were detained in Rakhine State during unrest in June that left at least 88 people dead, according to government figures.

UNHCR representative Mr Hans ten Felf told The Myanmar Times that Myanmar-based UN officials had lobbied the government on behalf of the workers.

“The resident and humanitarian coordinator has written several times asking [about] the charges [and] asking to have access. We never received an official reply from the government,” he said. “We have been working for the reconciliation of the communities. ... I certainly hope all our staff will be able to do their work that we have now all these years and we want to continue the support of these communities.”