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UN special rapporteur on human rights Tomas Quintana arrived in Arakan state on Monday days after clashes between local police and Rohingya Muslims left at least seven people injured.
With tensions rising between authorities and the state’s Muslim communities, Quintana was met by Arakanese Buddhist protesters Monday who made it clear they were wary of foreign interference in the restive state, where relations between Buddhists and Rohingya remain inflamed after two bouts of religious violence last year left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 people displaced.
“The rally took place at the airport as [Quintana] was arriving. There was no shouting of [slogans] – the participants were peacefully protesting and carrying signs, and there wasn’t that many [participants],” said Arakan state’s government spokesperson Win Myaing.
During the demonstration, protestors held banners calling Mr. Quintana “one-sided” and accused the envoy of backing Arakan state’s Muslim population.
“Whatever he decides to put in his report, I want him to do it correctly and justly,” said Nya Ae from the Rakhine Women’s Network during an interview with Reuters.
Despite the demonstration against the envoy’s visit, Quintana said he was glad to see people exercising their right to protest.
“It’s great that people have the right to demonstrate here in Myanmar (Burma). That shows they have the possibility to express themselves. That’s important. We need to hear all voices,” said Quintana.
The commencement of Quintana’s 10-day trip comes after reports surfaced over the weekend that at least seven people were injured when a group of Rohingya Muslims clashed with the police last Friday.
The unrest reportedly erupted after the body of a Muslim fisherman washed ashore. While authorities claimed the victim drowned after a boat capsized, members from the Rohingya community said the victim was beaten to death.
According to Win Myaing, a mob surrounded a local police outpost in Sittwe and demanded that authorities hand over the body to the crowd. When the police refused to give into the mob’s demand, Win Myaing claims the crowd set fire to a police guard post and about three or four buildings nearby that were previously housed by customs officials.
“I assume the incident was orchestrated because Mr. Quintana is coming for a visit,” said the Arakan state spokesperson.
“It’s not very nice of the [Rohingya] to come up like this when we are trying to work things out for both societies.”
In March, the UN envoy released a statement claiming he had received reports of “state involvement” in the violence between Buddhists and Muslims.
In his statement, Quintana pointed to “instances where the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces have been standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well organised ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs.
“This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the State or implicit collusion and support for such actions.”
Quintana is set to visit Arakan, Kachin, Shan and Chin states. The UN representative is scheduled to visit IDP camps in northern Arakan state’s Butheedaung on Monday afternoon.
-Ko Htwe and Shwe Aung provided additional reporting