UN has 'major concern' over Myanmar displaced

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Muslim Rohingyas sitting inside their collective tent at the Dabang Internally Displaced Persons camp

Muslim Rohingyas sitting inside their collective tent at the Dabang Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in October 2012. A top UN envoy Friday raised concerns about the plight of hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes by unrest in Myanmar, after visiting camps in the country's conflict-hit west and north

A top UN envoy Friday raised concerns about the plight of hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes by unrest in Myanmar, after visiting camps in the country's conflict-hit west and north.

The United Nations' humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said almost half a million people are displaced "in need of assistance" in the country, which is opening to the world after nearly half a century of military rule ended last year.

"While it is a time of positive change in the country, humanitarian needs have increased and this is a major concern," said Amos, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.

The UN said around 115,000 people have fled bloody communal violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in western Rakhine state, while 75,000 are displaced in Kachin state in the north because of ongoing fighting between ethnic rebels and the army.

A further 300,000 are believed to be unable to return home because of separate conflicts along the country's eastern border with Thailand.

Amos said conditions in camps across Rakhine, where decades-old animosity between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims exploded in June and October, were varied.

She described the conditions at a camp for stateless Rohingya Muslims as "dire" and "shockingly overcrowded", and said even in camps where basic needs are being met, she was "concerned about peoples' future".

"Children have been out of school for up to six months, the men are not able to provide for their families and there is a general sense of hopelessness," Amos told a press conference as she concluded her four-day visit.

Amos also called on Myanmar to stop blocking aid to thousands of people displaced by conflict with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

"For almost six months now the UN has not been able to provide assistance to almost 40,000 people as we are not permitted to go to KIA-controlled areas," she said.

Local partners were supplying food and other relief, "but their stocks are depleted and with the winter months approaching, getting more supplies in is critical", she added.

Fierce fighting has raged in Kachin state since a 17-year ceasefire between the military and the KIA shattered in June 2011.

A UN spokeswoman earlier said the government had prevented aid workers from travelling to rebel areas in the state because of security concerns.

Amos, who met reformist President Thein Sein during her trip, called on the government to "step up its efforts to address these critical humanitarian issues".

Myanmar, which has been racked by pockets of civil war in its ethnic areas since independence in 1948, has signed tentative ceasefire deals with a number of major armed groups.

But a deal with Kachin rebels remains elusive, with deep distrust on both sides.

Fighting in Kachin and the communal unrest in Rakhine are seen as key stumbling blocks on Myanmar's reform path, initiated by Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government.