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UNHCR official to visit Rakhine state
by Staff Writers
Yangon, Myanmar (UPI) Jul 30, 2012

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A U.N. expert on human rights in Myanmar will visit Rakhine state this week amid concern of alleged abuses by security authorities against Muslims.

Tomas Quintana, special rapporteur with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, arrives Tuesday for a four-day visit that will include one day in Rakhine, a report by Mizzima news, based in New Delhi and run by ex-patriot Myanmars, said.

Quintana was invited by the government, which last month faced rioting between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state -- also called Arakan -- that killed up to 78 people.

His visit comes after the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for a "prompt, independent" investigation into alleged human rights violations in Rakhine.

"We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces and even their instigation of, and involvement in, clashes," Pillay said.

"Reports indicate that the initial swift response of the authorities to the communal violence may have turned into a crackdown targeting Muslims, in particular members of the Rohingya community."

Rakhine occupies most of Myanmar's west coast on the Bay of Bengal and is mostly Muslim has a relatively large Muslim population. Within Myanmar, Buddhists make up 89 percent of the population while Muslims and Christians make up around 4 percent each, U.N. estimates state.

Many of the Rohingya have connections to neighboring Bangladesh.

Violence started in early June when 10 Muslims were killed by a mob who pulled them from a bus in late in the afternoon.

The second incident happened in the Rakhine capital Sittwe the same day when police opened fire to warn protesters who had surrounded a local police station, the independent Irrawaddy news Web site Irrawaddy, published in Thailand, said at the time.

The mob was demanding the release of three men suspected of the rape and murder of a woman May 28.

Immediately after the riots Brig. Gen. Kyaw Zan Myint, deputy minister of Home Affairs, was appointed to head a committee to look into the "lawless and anarchic acts that can harm peace, stability and rule of law in Rakhine," a report by the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

Pillay welcomed the government's decision to allow the U.N. Special Rapporteur Quintana access to Rakhine.

She also said it is important that those affected from all communities in Rakhine are able to speak freely to Quintana.

Mizzima also reported that a coalition group led by Refugees International, the Arakan Project and the Equal Rights Trust issued a series of recommendations that were delivered to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.

"In Myanmar, what began as inter-communal violence has evolved into large-scale state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya," the statement said.

"The urgent humanitarian needs of Internally Displaced Persons -- including those not in IDP camps -- aren't being adequately met. There is concern that those displaced won't be allowed to return to their homes as soon as it is safe to do so, creating a situation of protracted displacement."

A statement issued by the UNHCR said it estimates around 80,000 people are displaced in and around the Rakhine towns of Sittwe and Maungdaw where much of the violence took place.

"Most of them are living in camps for internally displaced people, with smaller numbers staying with host families in surrounding villages," the statement said.

"Many of the Rakhine IDPs whose houses were not destroyed have returned home. Others have said they would return if they could get help building new homes. Some displaced Muslims tell UNHCR staff they would also like to go home to resume work, but fear for their safety."


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