MYANMAR: The 300,000 people who have fled Rakhine state to Bangladesh over the past two weeks all come from the northern districts of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung, the last areas of Myanmar with sizeable Rohingya populations not confined to displacement camps.
These districts are hard to reach. Roads are poor, and the government requires permits to go there, which journalists rarely get.
So we grabbed the opportunity to join a government-organised visit to Maungdaw, for 18 local and foreign journalists.
It would mean seeing only places and people they wanted us to see. But sometimes, even under these restrictions, you can glean valuable insights.
Besides, the government has arguments that need to be heard. It is now facing an armed insurgency, albeit one some would argue has been self-inflicted. The communal conflict in Rakhine state has a long history, and would be difficult for any government to deal with.
On arrival at Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital, we were given instructions. No-one was to leave the group and try to work independently. There was a curfew at 6pm, so no wandering after dark. We could request to go to places that interested us; in practice we found such requests were rejected on grounds of security. To be fair, I believe they were genuinely concerned for our safety.
Most of the travel in this low-lying region of Myanmar is along the maze of creeks and rivers on crowded boats. The journey from Sittwe to Buthidaung takes six hours. From there we travelled for an hour on a rough road over the Mayu Hills to Maungdaw. As we drove into the town we passed our first burned village, Myo Thu Gyi. Even the palm trees were scorched. Agencies