Myanmar court sentences 3 aid workers to prison, U.N. says

Story highlights

  • The U.N. has been denied access to the detained workers
  • They have been sentenced to prison by a court in Rakhine State
  • Scores of people died in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in June
  • About 10 aid workers were detained amid the unrest, some of them have been freed

A court in Myanmar has handed down prison sentences to three aid workers, including two U.N. employees, who were detained amid sectarian clashes that killed scores of people in the west of the Southeast Asian nation, a U.N. spokesman said Monday.

The court in the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine State sentenced the three aid workers -- one from the U.N. refugee agency, one from the U.N. World Food Program and one from a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the refugee agency -- on Friday, said Aye Win, the spokesman for the United Nations in Myanmar.

He said he was not able to provide details on the length of the prison sentences or the charges the workers were convicted of because the United Nations didn't have access to the court room.

The world body has requested access to the detained workers and clarification of their situation from the Myanmar authorities, he said. It has so far been unable to meet with them since they were taken into custody.

The United Nations said in July that about 10 aid workers had been detained for "questioning" by the authorities in Rakhine, where violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims caused havoc in June. The detained workers included employees of the United Nations and the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

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Some of those being held were released, the United Nations said last week. But it noted that some workers remained in detention.

The communal violence in Rakhine resulted in the destruction of hundreds of homes and the displacement of tens of thousands of people, many of them members of the Rohingya, a stateless ethnic Muslim minority.

    Rakhine is home for the Rohingya, who say they have been persecuted by the Myanmar military during its decades of authoritarian rule.

    Many of them have fled into neighboring Bangladesh over the years. But the Bangladeshi government tried to prevent fleeing Rohingya from crossing the border from Myanmar during the recent outbreak of violence, saying it already had too many to deal with.

    The Myanmar government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine at the time of the unrest, bringing in the military to help restore order.

    Human rights advocates have accused the Myanmar authorities of cracking down particularly harshly on the Rohingya in the response to the unrest.

    Aye Win of the United Nations declined on Monday to disclose the identities of the U.N. workers sentenced in Rakhine on Friday.

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