SITTWE, Myanmar (Reuters) – Buddhist protesters in Myanmar threw petrol bombs to try to block a shipment of aid to Muslims in Rakhine state, where the United Nations has accused the military of ethnic cleansing, before police fired in the air to disperse them.
The incident late on Wednesday reflected rising communal animosity, and came as U.S. President Donald Trump called for a quick end to the violence that has raised concern about Myanmar’s transition from military rule.
Myanmar’s army chief, in his major speech on his plans for Rakhine State while on his first visit there since the strife erupted, called for internally displaced non-Muslims to go home.
But he made no made no mention of the 422,000 Muslims who fled to Bangladesh to escape his army’s sweeping counter-insurgency operation.
Hundreds of protesters were involved in the attempt to stop Red Cross workers loading a boat with relief supplies bound for the north of the Rakhine State where insurgent attacks on Aug. 25 sparked a sweeping military backlash.
The boat being was loaded with about 50 tonnes of aid at a dock in the state capital of Sittwe, a government information office said.
“People thought the aid was only for the Bengalis,” the secretary of the state government, Tin Maung Swe, told Reuters, using a term that Rohingya find offensive.
Protesters, some carrying sticks and metal bars, threw petrol bombs and about 200 police eventually dispersed them by shooting into the air, a witness and the government information office said.
The witness said he saw some injured people. Eight people were detained, the office said. No aid workers were hurt, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
“All emergency support done by the organization and in the movement is done in a neutral and impartial manner,” the spokeswoman, Maria Cecilia Goin, citing what the workers had told the crowd before authorities intervened.
Military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said the military had handled the situation as best as it could and he urged the internally displaced, most of who are Buddhist, to go home.
“For the national races who fled their homes, first of all they must go back … that is their rightful place,” he said in a speech in the Sittwe.
“National races” refers to officially recognized indigenous ethnic groups who make up the diverse nation. The Rohingya are not recognized as a “national race” and Min Aung Hlaing did not refer to their return.
On Wednesday, he visited an army camp that was attacked on Aug. 25 and said Myanmar was still suffering the consequences of “reckless” British colonialism.
Britain has suspended a training program for Myanmar officers because of the violence. Myanmar said five officers were being brought home and none would be sent to Britain again.
The Bangladesh government and aid groups are struggling with shortages of food, water, shelter and medical supplies for the refugees, who keep coming, though at a slower pace than over the past couple of weeks, officials say.
An aid truck skidded off a hilly in a Bangladeshi district near the border road on Thursday, killing nine workers.—Reuters