Commission says NGO staff did not disrespect Buddhist flag

Eleven Myanmar, 11 April 2014

Sittwe, Myanmar -- A government commission has said on Wednesday that a female aid worker for Malteser International did not intend to disrespect a Buddhist flag by removing it from her house.

The Sittwe Investigation Commission has investigated the event widely seen to have sparked riots on March 26 and 27 targeting United Nations staff and other aid organisations working in Rakhine State.

“The foreign aid worker arrived in Myanmar in 1993. She wants to serve the interest of Myanmar citizens. She has been studying Buddhism for 20 years and has no wish to disgrace Sasana flag or Buddhist values,” said the report issued on April 9.

Yvonne Dunton, a U.S. citizen who works for Malteser International, removed a Buddhist flag from her rented home in Sittwe to avoid being seen as partial or bias in a region segregated by religious and communal conflict.

The event immediately saw angry mobs target her house, as well as the homes and offices of other foreign aid organisations, including the United Nations, leading many to suspend operations and evacuate to Yangon.

The house owner had flown the Buddhist flag in support of Rakhine opposition to the national census, which was widely seen to support the self-identification of minority Muslims groups.

The commission’s report has said that such act did not break the law but was interpreted as disrespectful because of the political instability in the conflict-prone region.

“Some ethnics may misunderstand the work of international aid organisations because of instigators,” the report said.

Many international staff at the scene claim that the mobs were well organised and that the police stood back allowing the looting and violence to take place, only dispersing the crowds when an evening curfew came into effect.

The report added that no one was injured during the attacks, but the government has admitted to security weaknesses and has promised to ensure the future safety of aid workers working in the region.

The Sittwe Investigation Commission was formed in the aftermath of the recent riots and has included its findings in an official report.