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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, will undertake his final official visit to the country from 14 to 19 February, a UN statement said on Tuesday.
The UN said that the envoy’s trip will include a visit to Arakan State, where a series of protests have been staged recently by local Arakanese Buddhists demanding that the UN and other international agencies are expelled from the region due to what they say is “bias” in favour of Rohingya Muslims in the distribution of aid.
It was reported that some 500 Arakanese protestors had taken to the streets again on Monday demanding that the UN, along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other international relief agencies, withdraw their operations from the region.
According to local Arakanese media, protestors carried placards reading: “UN Get Out! AZG (MSF) Get Out! INGOs Get Out!” No injuries or damage were reported.
Also on Monday, at a public meeting of Arakanese youths and Buddhist monks in Arakan State capital Sittwe, speakers reportedly called for Burmese President Thein Sein to cancel a governmental MoU with MSF, and advocated that local landlords evict MSF and other INGOs from their offices in the town.
Similar demonstrations have also been staged recently in Buthidaung, which like Maungdaw has a majority Rohingya population. Arakanese protest leader Nyo Aye told DVB last week that they plan to hold more rallies in Maungdaw, as well as Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Minbya.
Speaking to DVB on Tuesday, Pierre Péron, the Public Information and Advocacy Officer for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burma, said, “In the past months, community resistance against international organisations working in Rakhine [Arakan] State has increased and this is reflected in the protests which we have seen over the past week.
“The rising anti-aid worker sentiment has created a difficult operating environment and in some areas it is affecting the ability of international actors to provide assistance to Rakhine and Muslim IDPs and vulnerable communities. In some cases, humanitarian assistance has had to be temporarily suspended. The situation is particularly difficult in Sittwe, Kyauktaw and Myebon, with incidents also occurring in Minbya, Mrauk-U and Maungdaw. Incidents include harassment and intimidation of aid workers, and blocking of access to camps by members of the community.”
By way of asserting that international relief operations are essential for all nationalities of the region, Péron also noted that “Muslim IDPs are not the only ones who need help in Rakhine State – many ethnic Rakhine people are also extremely poor and suffer from the chronic under-development.”
Tuesday’s UN statement also said that Quintana will visit conflict-torn Kachin State, the controversial Latpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division, and the Thilawa Deep Sea Port during his final mission, which ends his six-year mandate as Special Rapporteur to the country.