Convoy attack offers UN envoy insight into residents' fears

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, on Wednesday spoke of his concern about further violence in Arakan state where two people died in clashes between police and Rohingya Muslims last week.

Quintana spoke at a news conference in Rangoon where he summed up his recent trip to the region, during which his convoy was allegedly attacked by an angry mob in the town of Meikhtila, the scene of deadly violence between Muslims and Buddhist residents in March.

“The police and army have now taken charge of security in Rakhine State, although there are legitimate security concerns which the police and army are addressing. I have received many serious allegations of the disproportionate use of force in dealing with large crowds of Muslim protesters,” he said.

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Quintana also described the scene on Monday night in Meikhtila. He said his car was surrounded by around 200 people who began punching and kicking the windows as he tried to visit a camp for displaced persons, where 1,600 Muslims were living. As a consequence, his delegation was forced to abandon the visit.

“The fear that I felt during this incident, being left totally unprotected by the nearby police, gave me an insight into the fear residents would have felt when being chased down by violent mobs during the violence last March, as police allegedly stood by as angry mobs beat, stabbed and burned to death some forty three people,” Quintana said.

“I must highlight the obligation of the government to act immediately to control violent mobs running riot in communities and protect all people regardless of their religion or ethnicity,” he added.

The most recent unrest reignited earlier this month when the body of a Muslim fisherman washed ashore. Authorities said he had drowned after his boat capsized near his village in northwestern Burma, but local Muslims claim he was beaten to death.

The number of Rohingya boarding boats from Burma and neighbouring Bangladesh reached 34,626 people from June 2012 to May of this year, more than four times the previous year, says the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that has studied Rohingya migration since 2006.

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