Aid workers detained in Myanmar

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iol pic wld arrested REUTERS

Yangon -

Ten aid workers including some UN staff have been detained in western Myanmar in the wake of deadly communal unrest, the body said on Friday, as rights groups warned of mass detentions of Muslims in the restive area.

In a bulletin on the situation in violence-wracked Rakhine state, the UN said humanitarian staff have been held for “questioning” - adding that Myanmar's government has failed to respond to queries about those detained.

More than 80 people were killed in a wave of communal violence between ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya which swept the state in June, forcing tens of thousands to flee as homes were torched and communities ripped apart.

“At the moment, some 10 UN and INGO (international non-government organisation) staff are kept in custody by the authorities of Rakhine state for questioning,” said a statement from the United nation's humanitarian agency, OCHA.

The UN “has reported to government the situation on several occasions and has requested the government for information about each detained staff member.”

Six local staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) were among those held, MSF confirmed in a statement to AFP on Friday, although one has since been released.

“We do not have full information on the reasons,” MSF said. The medical charity temporarily suspended activities and reduced staff last month in its Rakhine state projects.

Although security forces have quelled the worst of the unrest, tens of thousands of people remain in government-run relief camps with the UN's World Food Programme reporting that it has provided food to some 100,000 people.

Ten Muslims were killed on June 3 by a Buddhist mob seeking revenge for the rape and murder of a local woman Ä the apparent spark for the unrest.

Both sides have accused each other of violent attacks.

A state of emergency is still in force over several areas and Human Rights Watch on Friday alleged some within Myanmar's security forces have carried out “mass round-ups” and other abuses on Muslim communities.

“While the Burmese army has largely contained the sectarian violence, abuses by security forces against Rohingya communities appear to be on the upsurge in recent weeks,” HRW said using Myanmar's colonial-era name.

“The mass arrests ongoing in northern Arakan (Rakhine) state seem to be discriminatory, as the authorities in these townships do not appear to be investigating or apprehending Arakan suspected of criminal offences.”

Decades of discrimination have left the Muslim Rohingya stateless and viewed by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet. - Sapa-AFP


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