Myanmar agrees to let U.N. food program help starving Rohingya, but there’s no timeline for aid arriving

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After months of blocking humanitarian aid to the Rohingya in Rakhine state, authorities in Myanmar on Friday finally agreed to allow the U.N.’s food program to distribute food to the Muslim minority, who are in the crosshairs of a major government crackdown. Reuters reports that the details of the deal have not yet been sorted out, but it can’t happen soon enough: Amnesty International told ThinkProgress last week that the Rohingya are facing starvation.

The U.N.’s children’s agency, UNICEF, has reported that refugee children arriving in neighboring Bangladesh are showing up “close to starvation.” The Rohingya have been fleeing fighting since August 25, when in response to deadly attacks on police posts, the government of Myanmar started a campaign to push them out of the country, killing those they deemed “terrorists” and burning down hundreds of Rohingya villages.

“Since August 25, we have had to stop treating 4,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in northern Rakhine because we have had no access,” said  UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado.

The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) has been struggling to gain access and cooperation from authorities in Myanmar for months now, even agreeing to withdraw a report on Rohingya children “wasting” under pressure from the government.  That report, completed in July — before the current round of fighting — indicated that over 80,000 Rohingya children under the age of five were suffering rapid weightloss owing to a food crisis in their community.

Bettina Luesche, a WFP spokeswoman in Geneva told reporters that it was unclear when they would be allowed to get food to Rakhine. “We just have to see what the situation on the ground is. It’s very hard to say these things if you can’t get in,” she said.

The United Nations has accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing, but the U.S. State Department isn’t yet going to make the same declaration. Even though the Myanmar government have chased more than half of the 1 million Rohingya out of the country in a months-long, systematic campaign against them that has included rape and starvation, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is still “considering” whether to declare the acts ethnic cleansing.

Asking Myanmar to put an end to the violence is as far as Tillerson got in a call on Thursday to the country’s Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Tillerson also condemned the August 25 insurgent attacks on police posts — more than two months after the fact. The government retaliated for those insurgent attacks with a wave of violence, which has seen Rohingya families risking being shot and drowning to make it to Bangladesh.

Authorities in Mynamar have alleged that the Rohingya are terrorists, that they’ve burned down their own villages and, most recently, that the government has reached an agreement with the U.N. to build homes for the displaced population. The U.N. has rejected these claims, and on Thursday flatly denied the latest claim:

Stanislav Saling, spokesman for the office of the U.N. resident coordinator in Myanmar, told Reuters in an email that ‘no agreements were reached so far’ after the agency’s representatives attended a series of meetings with Myanmar officials…’The UN-Habitat mission emphasized that resettlement should be conducted in accordance with the principles of housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons to support their safe and dignified return to their places of origin,’ he said, responding on behalf of UN-Habitat.

Meanwhile, Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, urging the U.N. Security Council to pass “a strong resolution in due recognition that the crisis in Rakhine State had not only been decades in the making — but has been spilling over, and continues to spill over, beyond Myanmar’s borders.” 

The Security Council has been weighing a draft resolution that calls on Myanmar to “immediately cease military operations” and to allow the externally displaced Rohingya to return to Myanmar. According to the Agence-France Press, China remains opposed to the resolution. China supports the Junta in Myanmar, and has several lucrative deals with the government.

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