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The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, began a 12-day visit to Burma on Monday amid growing concerns about the conduct of security forces in northern Arakan State and newly displaced civilians in the long-running Kachin State conflict.
The special rapporteur’s fifth visit to the country since she took the position in 2014 will include planned visits to northern Arakan and the state capital Sittwe, Laiza — the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State — Rangoon and Naypyidaw.
“The events of the last few months have shown that the international community must remain vigilant in monitoring the human rights situation there,” Lee said, according to a press release on Friday.
“Apart from what is happening in Rakhine [Arakan], the escalation in fighting in Kachin and Shan [states], with its inevitable negative impact on the situation of civilians, is causing some disquiet regarding the direction that the new government is taking in its first year of administration,” she added.
Fighting in northern Shan State has pitted a “Northern Alliance” of four ethnic armed groups against the Burma Army since an attack by the former on security positions in the townships of Muse and Kutkai on 20 November. In Kachin State, meanwhile, an offensive by the Tatmadaw that began in mid-August escalated last month as government troops overtook strategic outposts previously held by the KIA near its Laiza base.
A crackdown by security forces in northern Arakan State has drawn growing scrutiny from the international community as reports of grave human rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority have mounted. The military has locked down the region in the wake of coordinated attacks on border guard posts that killed nine police officers, which the government has pinned on Islamic insurgents.
The government has denied accusations of widespread rights abuses in the course of security forces’ “clearance operations” in search of the attackers, and formed a commission on 1 December to investigate the claims. Its interim report last week, which also refuted the allegations, was panned by human rights advocates as a “whitewash” not reflective of the reality on the ground.
Lee’s last visit to Burma came in June 2016. A report on this month’s visit is due in March.