By KYAW PHONE KYAW | FRONTIER
YANGON — A Malaysian ship carrying aid to communities caught in the Maungdaw crackdown docked in Thilawa Port on Thursday, where it was met by a small and silent group of nationalist protesters.
Around 60 people, including 20 monks, stood outside the terminal compound with signboards denying the existence of the Rohingya while flanked by Buddhist and Myanmar flags.
Ko Win Ko Ko Latt of the Myanmar National Network, a mainstay of the nationalist movement, told Frontierthat demonstrators had come to the port to stand against any formal recognition of the Rohingya.
“We are not protesting the aid but the political interests behind the scene, we are worried about the move to create an ethnic group named ‘Rohingya’ for the Bengalis,” he said, in reference to the widespread and contested claims that the Rohingya community are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Diplomatic tensions have festered between Myanmar and Malaysia since the beginning of the crackdown in northern Rakhine State, prompted by an insurgent attack on police outposts last October.
Organisers of the relief vessel, which has the imprimatur of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, had demurred from an original plan to deliver aid directly to Rakhine State.
Instead, an aid shipment will be carried overland from Yangon, while the vessel’s remaining supplies will be delivered to Teknaf in Bangladesh, where more than 70,000 people have fled since the crackdown began.
After the vessel docked, aid supplies were formally handed over to Dr Win Myat Aye, the Union Minister for Social Welfare, by Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister Mr Reezal Merican bin Naina Merican.
“The Myanmar government will arrange in distributing this aid to the communities in the affected areas, as suggested by the Malaysian side,” Win Myat Aye said.
Scores of people have been travelling onboard the vessel, along with a group of Malaysian government officials. Only 30 were given permission to disembark and hand over supplies.
Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed since the Maungdaw crackdown began.
The delivery comes days after a blistering report from the UN accused Myanmar’s security forces of carrying out a campaign of rape, torture and mass killings against the Rohingya.
Based on interviews with hundreds of escapees in Bangladesh, investigators said the military’s “calculated policy of terror” very likely amounted to ethnic cleansing.
For months the Myanmar government has dismissed similar testimony gathered by foreign media and rights groups as “fake news” and curtailed access to the region.
The UN’s top official on preventing genocide, Adama Dieng, said this week that a government commission tasked with investigating allegations of abuse was “not a credible option”.
Critics have rejected the state-appointed body, which is led by retired general and Vice President U Myint Swe and includes no Muslims, as toothless and biased.
In a meeting on Wednesday, Myint Swe admitted that “among the facts and accusations included in the (UN) report, there may be something special to be investigated,” state media reported.