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Unmarked UN boats used to transport junta officials to refugee camps, email shows

Military junta officials were transported from Myanmar to Bangladesh aboard United Nations ships from which UN markings had been removed, according to a UN email. resident coordinator in Myanmar, a move that could put aid workers at risk.

He The UN boats were used to transport officials of Myanmar’s ruling military junta to Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh on Wednesday, according to email sent Thursday by Ramanathan Balakrishnan. The email was obtained by the Myanmar Accountability Project and sent to Radio Free Asia.

Board officials have recently been negotiating a pilot project that would repatriate some 1,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. Wednesday’s trip on the unmarked boats was done so officials could engage in more conversations and meet with refugees who might return under the pilot program.

The trip was made without an armed escort and no weapons were observed. on any of the ships Balakrishnan wrote in the email. But he told colleagues he was concerned the trip would have created a “reputational risk” for all UN agencies and could jeopardize the safety of staff.

The removal of the UN logo from the ships was a serious security breach, said Chris Gunness, a former UN official who is now director of the Myanmar Accountability Project, a London-based NGO that is working to build criminal cases against members. from Myanmar. security forces.

“That is a serious breach of UN neutrality and endangers UN convoys in Myanmar,” he told RFA. “If the rebel groups, if the opposition groups and others feel that these transports, these aid convoys are being used by the junta to transport them, they can be attacked. And that endangers the lives of aid workers across Myanmar.”

1 million refugees

The area, which borders Myanmar, is home to around 1 million refugees from the persecuted Rohingya minority, including some 740,000 who fled Myanmar following a military crackdown in Rakhine state beginning in August 2017.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR and the World Food Program provided the boats “at the very strong request” of Myanmar junta officials, Balakrishnan said in the email.

The Myanmar delegation has interviewed more than 240 refugees since Wednesday, Bangladeshi official Khalid Hussain told BenarNews, a news service affiliated with Radio Free Asia. More interviews will take place in the coming days, he said.

UNHCR has not been involved in the negotiations between Bangladesh and Myanmar for the pilot programme, Balakrishnan said. The UN and UNHCR position “on return to Myanmar remains unchanged”: conditions in Rakhine are currently “not conducive to the safe and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric reiterated at Friday’s midday briefing in New York that UNHCR is not involved in the pilot programme. he repeated by Balakrishnan line on unsafe conditions in Rakhine.

Pilot program or public relations stunt?

However, it appears the junta used the UN “in a vile propaganda stunt” as the regime prepares to hold “fake elections” later this year, Gunness said.

“It’s extraordinary that the UN, on the one hand, says it’s dangerous and, on the other hand, goes ahead and supports this pilot scheme,” Gunness said. “Has no sense”.

Karin Valtersson, Campaigns Officer for Burma Campaign UK, echoed that, saying the pilot program feels like a public relations exercise by the Burmese army and the Bangladeshi government.

“The situation inside Rakhine State is still a situation of ongoing genocide and they can’t go back at the moment, and I don’t think anyone is going back,” he told RFA. “Reports that UN agencies have been involved are clearly shameful.”

Rather than return, the Rohingya refugees need support in the camps so that they can have a decent standard of living, with their safety guaranteed, he said.

“The security situation in the camps has deteriorated and the international community cannot abandon them again,” he said.

Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster. BenarNews, a news service affiliated with Radio Free Asia.

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