YANGON • A Malaysian ship, carrying aid for thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled a bloody army crackdown, arrived in Yangon yesterday, where it was met by nationalist protesters.
Health workers and activists went on board the Nautical Aliya as it docked at Thilawa port, near Myanmar's commercial capital, carrying food, medical aid and clothing.
The country's social welfare minister was among a delegation meeting the ship, which has been at the centre of a rare diplomatic spat between Myanmar and fellow Asean member Malaysia.
Outside the docking area, dozens of Buddhist monks and demonstrators waited, waving national flags and signs reading: "No Rohingya."
"We want to let them know we have no Rohingya here," said a Buddhist monk named Thuseitta, from the Yangon chapter of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union.
Myanmar denies citizenship to the million-strong Rohingya, despite many of them living on its soil for generations. Buddhist nationalist groups are especially strong in their vitriol, portraying them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The Nautical Aliya set off from Malaysia last week carrying 2,200 tonnes of rice, medical aid and clothing, along with hundreds of health workers and activists. Part of the aid will be unloaded in Yangon and transported overland to the north of Rakhine state, the site of the military crackdown. The rest will be taken to Teknaf port in southern Bangladesh, where almost 70,000 Rohingya have fled since October to escape the violence.
Myanmar initially refused to allow the ship into its waters. The government has also demanded that the aid be distributed to both Rohingya and Buddhist ethnic Rakhine people.