World Bank under fire

YANGON: Aid groups and human rights advocates have warned the World Bank that a US$100mil (RM420mil) development project it is planning for Myanmar’s conflict-riven Rakhine State could worsen tension there.

The World Bank last week published the first details of a proposal to fund cash-for-work programmes, and support small businesses in one of Myanmar’s poorest regions, through the government.

The western state was where Myanmar’s military unleashed a campaign in response to insurgent attacks in 2017 and drove out 730,000 Rohingya Muslims, a minority in Rakhine that is denied Myanmar citizenship and faces severe restrictions.

A conflict with another insurgent group, the Arakan Army, which recruits from the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group, has displaced more than 30,000 since late last year.

“It is difficult to imagine how meaningful recovery and development are possible in Rakhine without addressing the underlying human rights issues that currently impact every aspect of life for communities,” more than a dozen international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Myanmar said in a letter dated April 9 to the World Bank’s Myanmar office.

The project would be the first major aid pledge for Rakhine State since the Rohingya exodus and a boost for Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has faced international criticism for her handling of the conflict there.

A UN fact-finding mission, which has called for top Myanmar generals to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity and genocide, said this week it had seen no evidence Myanmar was trying to resolve the crisis or facilitate the safe return of refugees.

Suu Kyi, for her part, has said development is key to resolving Rakhine’s multiple crises. The proposal stems from a meeting between Suu Kyi and the bank’s vice-president for East Asia and Pacific, Victoria Kwakwa, in July last year.

The proposed Rakhine Recovery and Development Support Project would give poor and vulnerable people training and other help, support entrepreneurs with grants to create jobs, and support the government’s ability to implement and monitor those activities, the bank said in a document posted on its website on May 10.

Myanmar’s system of checks for environmental and social risks “will need to be complemented and enhanced significantly” to meet the World Bank’s standards, it said.

The project had not yet been approved by the bank’s board, the World Bank said. — Reuters

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