By Simon Lewis
YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar is allowing the first food deliveries for more than four weeks to the troubled north of Rakhine state, the UN humanitarian agency announced on Monday, amid an ongoing military lockdown of the area.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that the World Food Programme had been granted permission to deliver aid to four villages, but repeated a call for full access to the area where tens of thousands remain cut off from assistance.
“This is the first time humanitarian access has been granted to the affected areas of Maungdaw Township since the violence that erupted on 9 October,” the statement said.
Security forces have fanned out in the Muslim-majority region seeking the perpetrators of attacks in early October in which nine border guard police officers were killed.
The government believes a group of some 400 Rohingya Muslims with links to Islamists overseas planned and executed the attacks.
At least 33 alleged attackers and five government soldiers have been killed. Another police officer was also killed by motorcycle-riding assailants in the latest incident on Thursday, according to state media.
The military has designated the area an “operation zone,” blocking aid deliveries to the Rohingya population and barring foreign journalists and observers from entering.
Human rights monitors and members of the mostly stateless Rohingya community say troops have shot civilians on sight, raped Rohingya women and looted and burned homes during the operation.
The government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, denies any abuses have been committed.
Diplomats and the United Nations have been pushing an independent investigation, as well as for aid access to be resumed in the Maungdaw area.
“The UN continues to advocate strongly for full access to all affected areas to assess and respond to all humanitarian needs and to resume pre-existing humanitarian activities,” the OCHA said.
The high-level diplomatic mission from the UN, United States and Britain visited the area last week and told reporters officials had agreed to allow the resumption of pre-existing aid programs in the area and to extend assistance to newly displaced people.
Approximately 150,000 people had been cut off from food, cash and nutrition assistance for the past four weeks, the statement said.
WFP had been granted access to four affected villages, it said, without stating how many people would be reached.
OCHA’s head of office in Myanmar, Mark Cutts, said in a post on Twitter it was “welcome news that some food aid in #Maungdaw given go-ahead, but thousands of malnourished children still waiting for life-saving treatment.”
Before the current crises erupted, there was a malnutrition rate of 19 percent among children aged under five in Maungdaw, according to statistics cited in a WFP report in May.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)