Special rapporteur begins visit to Burma

Nov 12, 2007 (DVB), The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, arrived in Rangoon yesterday to begin his first visit to the country since 2003.

Pinheiro will spend five days in Burma on a mission sponsored by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the origins and outcomes of the mass public demonstrations in August and September and subsequent military crackdown.

On his arrival, Pinheiro was met by Burmese government officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The UN resident coordinator, Charles Petrie, who remains in Burma despite an expulsion order from the military regime, also welcomed the special rapporteur.

Pinheiro then paid a visit to Kya Khat Waing monastery in Bago and spoke to the chief abbot, and later met the board of trustees of Shwe Dagon pagoda.

This morning, Pinheiro held discussions with senior government officials, including from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Rangoon Peace and Development Council, Rangoon general hospital and law enforcement agencies.

He also visited two monasteries which were involved in the protests, and met the senior abbots of the state governing body of the Buddhist clergy.

Pinheiro hopes to interview detainees arrested in connection with the demonstrations before he finishes his mission, and he has already visited a number of places of detention and spoken to staff and security forces in charge of detainees, including at the former Government Technical College, Insein prison and the No (7) Police Battalion Control Command Headquarters in Kyauktan, Thanlyin.

Pinheiro is due to travel to the Burmese capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday.

The special rapporteur's visit comes amid a catalogue of alleged abuses during the protests and reports of ongoing human rights violations.

U Myint Aye, the leader of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, said that the group would welcome an opportunity to put across their concerns.

"We have an archive of documents on human rights violation in Burma and we also have things to say [to Mr. Pinheiro]. But whether we submit them to him totally depends on him. We will act according to the situation," Myint Aye said.

"We have also had our own human rights violated. We are going to file reports on them to UN organisations and now we are getting ready to do that. We are waiting for an opportunity to do it," he said.

Daw Khin Khin Win, the mother of Ma Mi Mi Oo, a pregnant woman who was arrested for handing water to monks, also hoped that the special rapporteur would be able to draw attention to her case.

"My daughter is five months pregnant and she has been in detention for about two months now. I was not allowed to meet her or even write a letter to her. This is a really worrying situation," Khin Khin Win said.

"We hope that the human rights gentlemen will visit her and bring her out of custody. I am begging to all concerned parties and the authorities to release my daughter," she said.

U Nyan Win, spokesperson for the National League for Democracy, said he hoped the special rapporteur would speak to NLD leaders.

"We don’t know what Mr. Pinheiro’s agenda on this trip is, but we are hoping that he will meet with the NLD leaders and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as he has usually visited our headquarters on his previous trips," Nyan Win said.

"There are a lot of issues in Burma which raise human rights questions. We are preparing to discuss what we believe are the most important of these issues, in case he sees us this time," he said.

Reporting by DVB

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