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Myanmar's Rakhines greet UN envoy with protest over Rohingya 'bias'

Rakhine demonstrators hold posters at a protest targeted at the UN special rapporteur's visit to Sittwe on January 8 (Photo courtesy of Ko Than Hlaing's Facebook page)

By John Zaw
January 8, 2015

Monks, demonstrators claim UN favors the oppressed minority

Hundreds of monks and civilian demonstrators in Sittwe, Rakhine state have been gathered together near the airport since Thursday morning to protest the UN special rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, who is set to arrive Thursday evening.

Daw Kyawt Sein, president of Rakhine Ahlintagar, said his group will be holding placards and posters saying “Get Out Ms. Lee” and “You are biased toward Bengalis and pressure the Rakhines” when the envoy arrives in the airport.

“We condemn the report of UN’s rights envoy that says our Rakhine [officials] are violating human rights over Rohingya. She is bias[ed] on [the] Rohingya [issue] that’s why we are protesting her,” Kyawt Sein told

The UN special rapporteur for Myanmar began her second tour of the country on January 7 and will assess the human rights situation of Rakhine and Shan states during her 10-day visit. Rakhine state has faced heavy criticism over its treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims, hundreds of thousands of whom face a humanitarian crisis after being forced into virtually sealed-off camps.

“I will review the situation in the camps for internally displaced persons and in isolated locations in the Rakhine state, to assess if there has been improvement in the critical conditions I came across on my first visit to Myanmar in July 2014,” Lee said in a statement on January 5.

In August 2013 a previous UN rights envoy was forced to abandon plans to visit Rohingya displaced by a spate of anti-Muslim violence in the town of Meiktila, central Myanmar, when his convoy came under attack by an angry mob.

Lee's visit comes days after the UN adopted a resolution urging Myanmar to grant citizenship to the minority group, viewed by the state as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants with restrictions placed on their movement, marriages and economic opportunities.

Lee is set to meet with Rakhine’s chief minister today to discuss current developments towards peace, stability and rule of law including the Rakhine Action plan. She will also meet with community leaders in the context of intercommunal tensions and efforts towards reconciliation according to the UN’s statement.

Khine Pyi Soe, vice-president of Arakan National Party, said that the Rakhine community opposes Lee’s report as well as her use of the term Rohingya.

“The UN’s resolution is like giving pressure to Myanmar and it is interfering with the sovereignty of our country so we vehemently oppose it,” Khine Pyi Soe who is at the protest told on Thursday.

The resolution issued by the UN General Assembly urges the government of Myanmar to allow Rohingyas equal access to full citizenship, to allow self-identification and grant equal access to services.

Pe Than, a lower house MP from Myaebon constituency in Rakhine state, said that he strongly opposes the UN’s resolution arguing that it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation.

“The resolution is not a practical way and the UN’s usage of ‘Rohingya’ may create more tensions in the communities. So the UN should not give pressure and focus on the development of the Rakhine state,” said Pe Than, who will meet with Lee in Myaebon Friday.

In public and in ongoing citizenship verification, the Myanmar government insists on the name “Bengali” in order to imply that the estimated one million Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

If they do agree to be listed as Bengali on the census, Rohingya receive only the second-class permissions granted to foreigners. With worsening sectarian violence, some have gone so far as to warn of impending genocide.

Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader in Sittwe, said that the government recently distributed citizenship verification forms to the Rohingya community and the Rakhine chief minister reportedly urged Rohingyas to cooperate with the government on its citizenship verification program.

“The government will accept only with ‘Bengali’ tag for citizenship verification plan so I don’t think that many Rohingyas will apply for citizenship with Bengali tag,” Aung Win told

The UN rights envoy will wrap up her second visit to Myanmar on January 16 and submit a report to the Human Rights Council in April 2015.

Additional reporting by AFP

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