NAYPYITAW Myanmar (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Myanmar government on Wednesday he is concerned about the welfare of the country’s Rohingya Muslims and asked officials to ensure access for UN agencies delivering humanitarian assistance to them.
Ban, in Myanmar to attend summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the East Asia Forum, met senior officials in the capital Naypyitaw and urged them to respect the Rohingya’s human rights.
Almost 140,000 of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya, most of whom of whom are stateless, remain displaced after deadly clashes with Buddhists in western Rakhine state in 2012.
“I expressed my concern about the Rohingya population who face discrimination and violence,” Ban Ki-moon told reporters after his meeting. “I am urging that the human rights and human dignity of people in Rakhine State should be respected.”
Ban and U.S. President Barack Obama, who is also in Myanmar for the summits, are expected to press Myanmar President Thein Sein on the issue in separate meetings on Thursday.
The Rohingya are facing a healthcare crisis since the government ordered Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) out of Rakhine in February after the medical charity said it had treated people it believed were victims of sectarian violence.
The government denied an attack had taken place and accused MSF, a key provider of medical services to the minority, of being biased. Although the government says MSF will be allowed to return, the group says it has not been able to return to full operations.
Travel in many areas of the state is tightly restricted, requiring permission from government ministries.
Four years of reforms have brought an end to nearly half a century of military rule as well as Myanmar’s pariah status, but there are concerns that the reforms are stalling.
The military is still the dominant political force and a peace process to end ethnic conflict is going nowhere.
A general election is scheduled for 2015, but the military-drafted constitution bars Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most popular politician, from becoming president.
“The process of democratization is at a defining moment, said Ban, who is scheduled to meet Suu Kyi during his visit. “An inclusive and transparent election next year will be crucial for the country’s future.”
An improvement in the situation for the Rohingya would help “keep the country’s transition on track and send a positive signal to the world,” Ban said.
Reporting by Simon Webb and Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall