GENEVA (Reuters) – Life has stopped in its tracks in Myanmar’s Rakhine state where an estimated 180,000 Rohingya remain, fearful after violence drove 650,000 to flee to Bangladesh, the International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday.
Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations, speaking after a mission to the area, said continuing tensions in the Muslim and Buddhist communities were preventing Muslim traders from reopening shops.
“The situation in the northern Rakhine has definitely stabilised, there are very sporadic incidents, but tensions are huge between the communities,” Mr Stillhart told reporters.
“You get a sense, especially of the two main communities being deeply scared of each other. What surprised me is the fact that not only the Muslim communities are scared, but that the others are actually scared as well.”
Mr Stillhart went to Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung in northern Rakhine, where the ICRC is providing food, water and other aid 150,000 people.
“You travel through the countryside and you really see on both sides of the road, villages that are completely destroyed. It just gives you a bit of a sense of the scale of destruction. There is also this pervasive sense of absence. It is as if life has stopped in its tracks, people do not move, markets are closed in Muangdaw town,” Mr Stillhart said.
Myanmar’s army released a report last month denying all allegations of rapes and killings by security forces.
“The main problem for the Muslim communities today is not that they are being attacked, or that there are incidents,” Mr Stillhart said. Rather it is fear, uncertainty, and “the very limited possibilities for them to access their own livelihoods like fields, and especially markets and services,” he said.