August 18, 2023

UN’s Claim that EAOs, PDFs Obstruct Aid Deliveries Is Unfair

The Irrawaddy

The UN’s relief agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, began one of its recent Myanmar Humanitarian Updates by criticizing the Myanmar military.  “Additional bureaucratic hurdles such as denial of TAs [travel authorizations], insistence on TAs for national staff and refusal of passage through military checkpoints forced aid organizations to reschedule or delay their planned activities in several states including Rakhine, Kayah, Kachin and northern Shan,” the OCHA said in its Update No. 31 issued on July 15.

Then, perhaps in an effort to appear neutral, it stated that, “Compounding these challenges, Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) have repeatedly obstructed humanitarian movements, detaining private transporters and confiscating relief goods in northern Shan, Chin, Kayah and Sagaing.”

The UN needs to clarify and give evidence of where and when aid was obstructed and in what circumstances, and why it is still transporting aid without coordination with the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) and ethnic resistance organizations (EROs). Coordinating with armed actors on the ground is common sense.

Local actors don’t know what that the trucks are carrying or whom the goods are intended for. In addition, the UN works only with the State Administration Council (SAC)—the junta’s governing body—which it relies on for travel authorization. The SAC is directing aid according to its own strategic interests and thus weaponizing aid. Naturally, resistance organizations are not going to support this.

The World Food Program and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and in fact the UN Country Team, have simply been asked to communicate information about convoys to the NUG, and have been warned of the dangers of not doing so. The NUG does not want a complex bureaucratic system of travel permission as the junta imposes, they just want to be informed when a convoy is going to travel through areas the resistance controls, which is in everyone’s interest. This is in fact standard UN procedure, but is not being followed in the case of Myanmar.

It is very unfair to accuse the NUG, PDFs and EROs of obstructing aid when the opposite is the reality. The systematic refusal of the UN to work with the NUG and EROs on aid delivery is one of the main obstacles preventing aid from reaching 1.9 million people. Local “humanitarian resistance” strictures are actually those who are providing aid to internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled the junta’s strategy of directly targeting civilians.

The NUG has instructed PDFs not to attack aid convoys, but how do they know whether a convoy is transporting UN aid or junta troops and/or supplies? The junta has reportedly used UN flags on their supply vehicles.

The NUG has asked for convoy details to be shared, reiterated its willingness to coordinate with the UN and other international actors, and requested them again to coordinate the delivery of aid. The consequences of not doing so rest on the UN and not humanitarian resistance actors.

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