Diplomats call on Myanmar to let aid into Rakhine State

YANGON (Reuters) - Several Western countries urged Myanmar on Friday to expand humanitarian aid access to its troubled Rakhine State, where at least 86 people have been killed and 22,000 have fled to Bangladesh since the beginning of an army operation in the area.

The pressure on the government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi over the crisis in the northwestern state is growing and the United Nations has called on Suu Kyi to go to the state to reassure civilians they would be protected.

Soldiers have poured into the area along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh and sealed it off in response to attacks by what the government has described as Muslim militants on border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine police officers.

Out of more than 150,000 people who had been getting aid before the onset of the violence, only about 20,000 people have got any since Oct. 9, under a partial resumption of deliveries, but some 130,000 have not been reached, the United Nations said.

Diplomats say decisions on aid deliveries, seemingly approved by top government officials in the capital, Naypyitaw, often get overturned or delayed by military-controlled officials in Rakhine State.

“We are concerned by delays and urge all Myanmar authorities to overcome the obstacles that have so far prevented a full resumption, noting that tens of thousands of people who need humanitarian aid, including children with acute malnutrition, have been without it now for nearly two months,” envoys of several countries including France, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and United States said in a statement.

The statement suggests that some diplomats - who have pressured Myanmar to reopen aid access for weeks - are losing patience with the military and government and are running out of options to influence their behavior.

Nearly 22,000 Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since Nov. 1, the United Nations said in its latest update on the situation, adding that about 30,000 people are estimated to have been displaced and thousands more affected by the fighting.

Suu Kyi’s government has rejected accusations by residents and human rights monitors that soldiers have raped Rohingya Muslim women, burnt houses and killed civilians, although it has established a commission led by a former senior junta member to investigate the claims.

Ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims have lived separately in Rakhine State since clashes in 2012 in which more than 100 people were killed. The fresh outburst of violence is the biggest test for Suu Kyi’s eight-month-old administration.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Robert Birsel