Myanmar Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been accused of inciting “anti-Rohingya and anti-aid worker sentiment” on Facebook, including a post accusing the World Food Program of feeding Muslim militants.
Another post from the State Counsellor at the weekend displayed images of dead “Hindi” civilians, including three children with horrific wounds, it said were killed by Muslim militants after being caught in fresh clashes in northern Rakhine State.
Both were uploaded on Sunday to the State Counsellor Office Information Committee page, one of several official sites for Ms Suu Kyi, who heads the government.
The latest violence in Myanmar has killed more than 100 people since Friday, most of them Muslim militants, and prompted an exodus by non-Muslim and Muslim civilians from the impoverished state, which former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan warned last Thursday was in a security and human rights crisis.
On Friday, the government declared a little-known militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a terrorist organisation after it launched co-ordinated attacks on 30 security posts in Rakhine, killing 12 officers.
The attacks appeared timed to coincide with a report by the Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Committee, which called for urgent efforts to reconcile the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine to end the cycle of communal violence, and lift deeply discriminatory restrictions on the one million Rohingya.
The ARSA claimed it struck in response to military attempts to starve out Rohingyas interned in refugee camps, by blocking the delivery of rice and other aid.
The same militants instigated an attack in October on Rakhine police posts, sparking a deadly clearance operation by security forces. About 87,000 Rohingya fled the violence into neighbouring Bangladesh, where UN investigators and human rights workers have documented hundreds of allegations of mass gang rape and murder of civilians.
The statement on Ms Suu Kyi’s official Facebook page on Sunday claimed “INGO (international non-government organisation) staff had participated while extremist terrorists besieged Taungbazar village” in Rakhine at the weekend.
“Similarly … (high energy) biscuits which World Food Program has distributed had been discovered at the camp where terrorists sheltered in May Yu mountains.”
WFP is one of the few aid groups allowed to operate in Rakhine, distributing food aid to Rohingya civilians interned in camps. More than 80,000 children under five are estimated to be suffering severe malnutrition.
In a statement yesterday the WFP said it was “aware of a photo of one box of WFP biscuits reportedly found in a training camp last month. “WFP takes any allegation of food diversions very seriously and we have requested more details from the authorities and asked to see the batch number of the biscuits as this will allow us to trace its origins and distribution site. We are still waiting for these details to be provided.”
All food assistance operations in Rakhine State had been suspended, affecting 250,000 internally displaced and other vulnerable populations, and it was coordinating with authorities to resume distributions as soon as possible
Fortify Rights spokesman Matthew Smith said the posts suggested the State Counsellor’s office was attempting to manufacture broadbased anti-Rohingya sentiment by painting the entire Rohingya population as militant.
“She is actively shaping anti-Rohingya and anti-aid worker sentiment in a situation that is already deadly and severe … at a time when she should be doing everything in her power to instil calm and promote human rights,” he said.
Mr Smith unequivocally condemned the attacks, but said the government should respond in a “rights-respecting way, and as far as we can tell they’re not doing that”.
While authorities evacuated about 4000 non-Muslims from Rakhine at the weekend, that did not include “a single Muslim civilian”. Instead thousands of Rohingyas, overwhelmingly women and children, have fled to the border, only to be refused entry by border guards.
On Sunday, the International Crisis Group called on the military to distinguish between insurgents and civilians, and provide protection to all civilians caught up in the fighting.