News24

UN staff leaves unrest-hit Myanmar state

2012-06-11 09:01

Yangon - The United Nations on Monday said it had begun evacuating staff from its base in western Myanmar where fierce sectarian unrest has seen deadly clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.

Ashok Nigam, UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Yangon, said roughly 44 workers and their families were leaving Maungdaw in troubled Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh.

"It is most of the international staff but local staff based in Maungdaw will still be there," he said, adding the voluntary measure was "temporary" and "because of the insecurity and disturbance".

A first group left Maungdaw on Sunday followed by a second group on Monday.

UN workers are gathering in the state capital Sittwe, he said, and most will be flown to Myanmar's main city of Yangon. Workers for other non-governmental organisations have also been helped to leave the area, Nigam said.

Myanmar's government on Sunday declared a state of emergency in Rakhine to deal with the violence.

Challenge for staff

The state, which is predominantly Buddhist, is home to a large number of Muslims including the Rohingya, a stateless people described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Nigam said it was "a challenge" for staff to function normally in Maungdaw, which has been put under a curfew and where the United Nations has a humanitarian operation.

The surge in sectarian violence presents a major test for President Thein Sein, a former general credited with pushing through a series of dramatic political reforms since the end of decades of military rule last year.

In Sittwe, an AFP reporter saw the charred remains of houses as well as troops outside monasteries and mosques, while several military trucks were at the city's airport.

An uneasy calm descended on the streets of the city, where residents welcomed the tight security.

"The situation seems back to normal after the soldiers came into the town for our security," said a Buddhist resident who did not want to be named.