Myanmar: Unrest in Sittwe
Attacks against international relief agencies
STATEMENT OF MALTESER INTERNATIONAL
The census which is planned by the Government of Myanmar for the weekend of 29/30 March 2014 and which is boycotted by various groups, has led to the recent unrest in Sittwe, situated in Rakhine State in the northwest of Myanmar, near the border with Bangladesh. A Buddhist flag should be displayed at every house as a visible sign for this boycott. - Already since 2012, ethnic violence has been on-going in Rakhine State.
Since the evening of 26 March 2014, at about 9.p.m. local time, attacks are reported against the offices and facilities of nearly all international aid agencies as well as UN institutes working in Sittwe; these attacks were also directed against Malteser International, i. e. their office, their warehouse, the team house of the national staff as well as the private house of Malteser International’s program coordinator.
Rumours have been spread saying that a Malteser International staff member had treated the religious flag - that had been attached to Malteser International’s warehouse without the organization’s knowledge - in a disrespectful way.
Ingo Radtke, Secretary General of Malteser International, states: “Malteser International is committed to the humanitarian principles and therefore the absolute ethnic and political neutrality of our work is our highest priority. We therefore avoid any form of political, religious or ethnic partisanship. 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. 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. Our program coordinator has many years of experience in humanitarian aid and has been working for Malteser International already since 2013.”
The humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence are the foundation of Malteser International’s work. The removing of the flag from the warehouse was misinterpreted by extreme forces as opposition as they are not familiar with the concept of impartiality and the humanitarian principles.
According to the organization’s safety and security guidelines, Malteser International has declared its highest level of security. In cooperation with other international organisations and the respective embassies, Malteser International is preparing the temporary evacuation of its international as well as its national non-resident staff members. At present, Malteser International does not see any threat for its national resident staff members.
Malteser International as well as further international relief organisations in Sittwe have temporarily suspended their relief activities in Sittwe. Malteser International headquarters are in close contact with their staff on the ground and will observe the further development in the country.
The international relief organisation Malteser International which has been working in Myanmar already since 2001 and in Rakhine State since 2003 is currently active in Sittwe with three international staff members from America and Uruguay and 85 local staff members running health, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) as well as disaster risk reduction programmes for the population.
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