NEW YORK — A senior UN official on Tuesday returned empty-handed from five days of talks in Myanmar where he appealed for the safe return of Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh and access for aid workers.
Jeffrey Feltman, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, discussed the plight of the 582,000 Rohingyas who have fled an army campaign in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since late August.
Feltman met with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and was taken on a plane to fly over Rakhine where he saw torched villages, a UN spokesman said.
“He reiterated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call that humanitarian actors be given full and unhindered access to northern Rakhine State and that refugees be allowed voluntary, safe and dignified return to their place of origin,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The United Nations has for weeks demanded that UN aid workers be allowed in Rakhine State and that Rohingyas be given permission to safely return to their homes.
“I don’t think in announcing the trip we had expected any quick wins. This is an ongoing discussion with the government of Myanmar,” Dujarric said.
Asked why Myanmar was still blocking aid deliveries to Rakhine, he said: “That’s a valid question to ask to the authorities of Myanmar.”
“We would like to see that access as soon as possible.”
Earlier, the UN refugee agency said in Geneva that some 10,000-15,000 Rohingyas were stranded near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said many of them had chosen to remain in their homes in Rakhine despite repeated threats to leave or be killed.
“They finally fled when their villages were set on fire,” he said.
The United Nations has denounced the army campaign against the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing but Myanmar authorities argue the military operations are to root out militants following attacks on police posts in late August.
In his talks with Myanmar officials, Feltman stressed that “successful counter-terrorism efforts do not rely exclusively on security measures,” said Dujarric.
The UN Security Council is weighing action, possibly a resolution laying out demands, but diplomats have said China, a supporter of Myanmar’s former ruling junta, and Russia are opposed to such a measure.