UN human rights expert on Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, left for Rakhine State on Tuesday to look into reports of abuses against Rakhine Muslims.
Tomas Ojea QuintanaBurma’s foreign minister told the media on Monday that “maximum restraint” was used in Rakhine State to quell the sectarian violence.
Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin made his remarks in a press conference with UN rights envoy Quintana, saying security forces did not abuse Rakhine Muslims.
Quintana travels to Rakhine State, following international calls for a credible investigation into the unrest by a neutral body. The UN said this week that Quintana will have only a brief time in the state, but he will talk with government officials, aid groups and others.
Quintana has made clear that investigating the conflict is a priority of his weeklong trip, which started Sunday. The violence in Rakhine State is one of the "challenges" facing Myanmar despite recent political reforms, he siad. On Tuesday, Quintana planned to tour the Muslim-majority townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung near Bangladesh's border and on Wednesday visit refugee camps in the state capital, Sittwe.
The U.N. has a direct interest in the Rakhine issue because five workers for the world body's refugee agency are among 858 people still detained by authorities in connection with the unrest. Five other workers for international aid agencies are also in detention. The aid workers have been accused of taking part in the violence and "setting fire to villages," Border Affairs Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Htay told reporters, according to a report by The Associated Press.
The United Nations and Muslim groups had raised fears of a crackdown on Muslims following violent clashes involving the minority Muslim Rohingya community in early June, and reports of widespread roundups of Rakhine Muslims.
Wunna Maung Lwin said Burma "totally rejects the attempts by some quarters to politicize and internationalize this situation as a religious issue.”
Quintana will visit Rakhine State where up to 80,000 people still remain displaced follwoing fighting that erupted between Buddhist and Muslim communities in early June.
According to official figures, at least 77 people were killed in the unrest, including eight killed by security forces.
Of the displaced, Burmese officials say the vast majority, around 53,000, are Muslims.
Burma considers an estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners and many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
Fears about their plight have spread across the Islamic world, with threats of violent reprisals against Burma from extremists.
Quintana will be in the country for seven days. On Friday, he will visit Kachin State, the scene of ongoing fighting between the government and ethnic rebels.
The UN has urged Burma to cooperate with a “prompt, independent” investigation into the unrest in Rakhine State.
Last week saw a chorus of protests from international groups calling for a credible investigation into the sectarian violence that has wracked western Burma during the past two months, claiming up to 78 lives and the burning of thousands of homes and businesses in violence pitting Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist in attacks and clashes, although the attacks are not exclusively centered on religion, say reports.
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