Thailand says closely watching Myanmar crisis, ready to provide aid

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s foreign ministry, in a rare statement on an ongoing crisis in neighboring Myanmar’s Rakhine state, said late on Saturday that it was “closely following the situation” and would provide aid to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.

FILE PHOTO: People displaced by violence walk in the banks of Mayu river with their belongings while moving to another village, in Buthidaung in the north of Rakhine state, Myanmar September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Violence erupted in Rakhine last month when Rohingya militants attacked security posts, triggering a crackdown by the Myanmar army.

More than half a million ethnic Rohingya - a mostly Muslim minority who are denied citizenship by Myanmar - have fled to Bangladesh since then.

Those who fled accuse Myanmar’s army, backed by Buddhist mobs, of a brutal killing campaign. The United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing a sweeping government offensive in the north of Rakhine State in response to those attacks.

“Thailand is closely following the situation in the Rakhine State with concern,” the ministry said.

“The Royal Thai Government has always placed great importance to providing care and protection to Myanmar displaced persons,” it added, pointing to some 100,000 refugees from Myanmar who live in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.

But many of those living in the camps are long-term residents who fled conflict decades ago. None are Rohingya, according to non-governmental organizations who work there.

The Thai foreign ministry said its statement was in response to views raised by some human rights groups regarding Thailand’s position on the unrest in Rakhine.

Amnesty International last week said Thailand must not “push back” Rohingya fleeing violence and that it should provide refugees formal legal status and protection.

Thailand does not recognize the status of any refugees or recognize the Rohingya as legitimate migrant workers.

Thailand said it supported a statement on the issue by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a grouping of 10 nations.

In the statement, ASEAN foreign ministers condemned the attacks on Myanmar’s security forces and “all acts of violence which resulted in loss of civilian lives”.

Malaysia, an ASEAN member, disassociated itself from the statement, saying it misrepresented issues relating to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.

So far, “none of the affected victims from the August unrest in Rakhine State have been found in Thailand,” the Thai foreign ministry said.

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Christopher Cushing