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Urgent Question on recent violence in Rakhine

September 5, 2017

As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Mark responded on behalf of the Government to an Urgent Question raised in the House following the recent violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar (Burma). You can find the full debate in Hansard by clicking here. Mark’s opening statement in response to the Urgent Question can be found below.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for raising this matter and giving the Government the opportunity to detail the significant action we have taken. Overnight on 24 August, members of the Rohingya militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army—the ARSA—attacked numerous police posts in northern Rakhine. Even in the days prior to that escalation of hostilities, our embassy in Rangoon had been monitoring the situation very carefully, including travelling to the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe. We understand that tens of thousands of people have crossed the border into Bangladesh.

Kofi Annan’s Rakhine advisory commission report was published immediately prior to the attacks. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), and I issued a joint statement at that time welcoming the report, but also condemning the attacks by Rohingya militants on Burmese security forces. At the same time, the UK strongly urged the security forces in Rakhine to show restraint and called for all parties to de-escalate the tensions.

On 30 August, at the UK’s request, the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Rakhine. Our UK representative in New York led the condemnation of attacks by Rohingya militants, and urged a measured and proportionate response from the security forces. We also called for humanitarian aid to reach those in need as soon as possible and offered UK support for the Rakhine advisory commission, encouraging the international community to do likewise. The recent violence serves to underline how important it is to address the long-term issues in Rakhine and deliver for all communities; it should not deflect the Burmese Government from the key task of addressing the underlying issues that have caused people to flee. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, it is vital that the civilian Government of Burma receive the support of the Burmese military, and that Aung San Suu Kyi is not thwarted in her attempts to stabilise the situation.

Along with de-escalating the fighting, our immediate priority is how urgent food and medical assistance can be provided to displaced citizens from all communities. Our ambassador in Rangoon has rightly been lobbying the Burmese Government on that, and they have confirmed that they are trying to get humanitarian aid through to communities most in need. As many will know, that is being hampered by the security situation and by inter-communal tensions.

Our high commissioner in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has also discussed the increasingly acute humanitarian situation with the Government there, and I discussed the situation with the Bangladeshi high commissioner last week. I look forward to discussing these issues further tomorrow at a meeting arranged some weeks ago with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), the co-chair of the all-party group on Burma, as well as to paying a ministerial visit to Burma in the near future.