YANGON, Myanmar — Dozens of Buddhist monks carrying banners that said "Get Out" and "Don't interfere in Myanmar's internal affairs" gathered outside the airport Wednesday to protest the arrival of a delegation from the world's biggest Islamic political bloc.
Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and several ministers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a grouping of 57 Islamic countries, will head directly to the capital, Naypyitaw, to meet top government officials to discuss sectarian violence that has gripped the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million.
More than 240 people have died and 240,000 others fled their homes in the last year, many of them Rohingya Muslims hunted down by Buddhist machete-wielding mobs, occasionally as security forces looked on.
The OIC team — representing Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Djibouti and Bangladesh — is expected to meet large crowds of demonstrators when they continue onward Friday to the tense western state of Rakhine, scene of much of the bloodshed, where they will meet victims at crowded, rundown displacement camps.
Ark Hananto, part of the Indonesian delegation, said they were assured by government that security would be tight. While they realize there may be a backlash, the group decided it was important to not only offer expressions of concern and condemnation, but to meet directly with those affected.
They also want to talk to community and religious leaders.
"We want to find a way to help build communication," he said.
Tensions have been soaring in Rakhine state in the last two weeks.
Allegations by local Buddhists that international humanitarian organizations operating in Myanmar are biased in favor of Rohingya, something they deny, have resulted in threats to foreigners.
Several aid workers flying into the state's capital, Sittwe, have been turned back. International journalists have been told that travel to the area is barred for the time being.
Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said that if the Islamic bloc wants to see stability restored to the state, "it's better that the delegation not visit at all, but provide humanitarian assistance from outside."
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.