UNITED NATIONS // Myanmar's government has allowed Turkey's foreign minister to distribute humanitarian aid at camps of Muslims and Buddhists displaced by communal fighting in June, a move the UN called "significant" because it signals the country's willingness to alleviate the suffering of its people.
The longstanding resentment between the Muslim Rohingya minority and Myanmar's majority Buddhists erupted in violence in western Rakhine state in June, leaving at least 78 dead, thousands of homes burned down, and tens of thousands homeless.
Myanmar considers the Rohingyas to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognised there as citizens.
Vijay Nambiar, the special adviser on Myanmar to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, issued a statement yesterday stressing the importance of a visit to Rakhine state last week by Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was accompanied by his wife and daughter and officials from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Before he left, Davutoglu said he would negotiate the delivery of aid to the Rohingyas, whom the UN considers to be among the most persecuted people in the world.
Nambiar said the visit at the invitation of Myanmar's government, including to the camps, was "significant" in light of the recent violence.
The Turkish aid "was among the first international humanitarin assistance accepted by Myanmar aside from that provided by the UN," he said.
Nambiar said the Turkish aid distrubtion demonstrated the Myanmar government's willingness "to cooperate with the international community to alleviate the suffering of its people".
"Such positive steps will help support Myanmar's ongoing process of democratization and reform," he said.
Myanmar's president Thein Sein has introduced a wave of globally praised reforms since taking office last year following decades of repressive military rule, but activists say the government remains repressive.
Nambiar said he and the secretary-general have been in continuous contact with Myanmar authorities on the issue of humanitarian aid to the displaced in Rakhine.
"The United Nations is committed to assisting Myanmar and its people in their reform and national reconciliation efforts, including overcoming imminent challenges, in cooperation with the international community," he said.