Food aid deliveries planned for more than 80,000 people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been blocked because of a military clampdown in the area, according to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).
A predominantly Rohingya area in the north of the state has been closed off after attacks on police posts allegedly by Rohingya fighters over a week ago prompted a surge in government troops, WFP said in a statement on Wednesday.
The WFP normally feeds 80,000-85,000 people in the locked-down area, which borders Bangladesh, but aid deliveries have been disrupted and the military has prevented any supplies from getting through.
Rakhine state is where the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority group has allegedly faced systematic persecution since unrest broke out in 2012.
“There is military everywhere and a curfew in place. It’s impossible to access any of the areas affected,” said Arsen Sahakyan, WFP’s partnership officer in Myanmar.
“The areas affected are also where we normally operate.”
According to state media, security forces have killed at least 30 people since the raids on the police posts. A tally of latest official figures show at least 40 people being held.
Activists say a violent crackdown has been unfolding, with troops shooting dead Muslim civilians and torching their villages. But the military says it has been fending off violent attacks.
The government has blamed the attacks on an armed group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin and said hundreds of fighters are planning more attacks.
The unrest has raised fears of a repeat of the 2012 sectarian conflict which left more than 100 dead and drove thousands of Rohingya into squalid displacement camps.
About 125,000 Rohingya remain displaced and face severe restrictions on their movements, education and access to food while living in sqaulid camps.
Tensions have recently simmered between the Buddhist Rakhine community and the Muslim Rohingyas, and fears that unrest between the two groups will spread to other parts of the state have prompted the WFP to restart aid to some 6,000 displaced people whom they had stopped feeding several months ago.
Many Rakhines – who are also an impoverished community in Myanmar – resent the international aid given to the Rohingya.
In 2014, most aid agencies pulled out of the state after mobs of Buddhists ransacked their offices and warehouses, accusing them of bias in favour of Muslims.
That anger was on display outside a monastery in Maungdaw that has become a makeshift refugee camp for Rakhines, where a sign read: “We don’t need any support from UN, INGOs – Maungdaw Rakhine state”.
“When our Rakhine houses were burned and attacked in 2012, they didn’t let the world know,” Hla Shwe, a Rakhine villager, told the AFP news agency, referring to the aid agencies.
“They should think about the human rights of Rakhine ethnics as well.”
In June, the UN said widespread violations against the Rohingya, including denial of citizenship since they are accused of being illegal immigrants, forced labour and sexual violence, could amount to “crimes against humanity”.
The EU, in July, urged Myanmar’s government to put an end to the “brutal repression” and “systematic persecution” of Rohingyas, but their requests for unimpeded access to areas where the Rohingyas were targeted have largely been ignored.