Myanmar police fired warning shots to disperse a mob who threw petrol bombs at them and tried to block an ICRC boat in the conflict-hit Rakhine state, where tens of thousands are believed to be in urgent need of aid, state-backed media said on Thursday.
Communal tensions remain sky high across Rakhine where raids by Rohingya militants at the end of last month sparked a massive army crackdown and an unprecedented exodus of the Muslim group which the UN has called “ethnic cleansing”.
Stranded after their villages burned to the ground, many Rohingya Muslims left inside Rakhine are in especially desperate need of aid.
The zone worst-hit by communal violence remains under a virtual army lockdown, although authorities have promised to allow safe passage for relief.
Aid is an incendiary issue in Rakhine, which is poor and scored by ethnic and religious hatred.
Ethnic Rakhine believe foreign aid agencies ignore their needs and are biased towards the Rohingya — a minority denied citizenship in Myanmar and branded ‘Bengali’ outsiders.
A 300-strong mob in the Buddhist-majority state capital Sittwe massed late Wednesday at a jetty where a boat — carrying 50 tonnes relief materials including clothes, water buckets and mosquito nets — was preparing for the journey up river into Maungdaw.
They forced “the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) to unload the aid from the boat and prevented the boat from leaving,” Global New Light of Myanmar reported Thursday, quoting Myanmar’s Information Committee.
Police officers arrived as the crowd grew near the jetty, while Buddhist monks also tried to calm the mob, but people began to hurl “stones and Molotov (cocktails) at the riot police” the report said.
Eight people were detained and several police were injured before order was restored late at night.
Before last month’s crisis, tens of thousands of Rohingya — as well as some ethnic Rakhines — displaced by previous rounds of violence were already dependent on foreign and local aid groups.
Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was condemned early on in the Rohingya crisis after photos of World Food Programme (WFP) food packages were shared on her office’s Facebook page after apparently being seized from the Rohingya militants.
Foreign aid groups said that made them a target of local hostility — and many have reined in or stopped their operations for safety reasons.
Hundreds have been killed in violence since August 25, which has forced 420,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee army operations to Bangladesh.
A further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced, seeking shelter in monasteries and schools in and around Sittwe.
There are fears tens of thousands of terrified Rohingya villagers are on the move inside Rakhine desperately short of basic necessities.