Myanmar's ethnic Rakhines greet UN rights envoy with protests

Protesters say Yanghee Lee is biased and favors the Rohingya
Myanmar's ethnic Rakhines greet UN rights envoy with protests

U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee conducts a press conference in Yangon on Jan. 20 during the conclusion of a 12-day mission to investigate escalating violence in Myanmar's restive ethnic border areas. Lee is on her sixth visit (July 10-21) to Myanmar to further gauge the human rights situation in the country. (Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP)

People in Myanmar are protesting the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights visit to the country's restive state of Rakhine.

More than 300 demonstrators near the airport in the state capital Sittwe protested Yanghee Lee's arrival July 12, part of her 12-day visit to the country.

"We are strongly against the U.N.'s rights envoy visit as her reports never reflect the views of ethnic Rakhines and she is biased on the side of the Bengalis so people are protesting," said Soe Naing from the Rakhine social network using the Bengali term used locally to describe Muslim Rohingya.

It is Lee's sixth visit to Myanmar to assess the human rights situation in Rakhine, Shan and Karen states. She will also visit Yangon and Naypyidaw.

Lee's visit occurs as tensions remain high with reports of arrests and killings in northern Rakhine began after nine police officers were killed at three border posts there on Oct. 9, allegedly by Rohingya militants. Following the attack, a harsh crackdown by Myanmar security forces resulted in 70,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.

Lee will also visit Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in northern Rakhine July 12-13 where troops remain on high alert following the recent killings of village leaders and an aid worker by suspected Rohingya militants.

Zaw Win from the Buthidaung Social Network said they have applied for permission to protest her visit. He said more than 500 people will join demonstrations.

"Whenever Yanghee Lee visits Rakhine, she has only one eye which is biased in favor of the Bengalis so we are protesting against her tour peacefully," Zaw Win told ucanews.com.

Zaw Win added that he does not think Lee's report will consider the views of ethnic Rakhines.

Rohingya in the state have welcomed the U.N rapporteur's visit.

Abbas, a Rohingya from an internally displaced peoples camp near Sittwe, said he hoped Lee's visit would improve the rights of his community.

"I hope she can recommend to the government on how to make things better for us," said Abbas, who has resided in the camp since 2012.

More than 120,000 Rohingya have remained in camps since deadly violence broke out between groups of Rakhines and Rohingya in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead. For the Rohingya in the camps there is no freedom of movement, nor healthcare or education services.

The Rohingya, who number about 1 million, are denied citizenship and other basic rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The U.N. rights envoy will wrap up her visit on July 21 and will submit a report to the Human Rights Council in October.

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During her visit, the U.N. said Lee will address a broad range of human rights issues with authorities and various stakeholders, including political and community leaders, and civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

Lee's visit comes not long after Aung San Suu Kyi's government said it would refuse visas to members of a U.N. fact-fining mission that wants to investigate allegations of rights abuses against Rohingya by security forces in northern Rakhine.

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