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Burma says it will refuse entry to UN investigators probing Rohingya abuses

Radhika Coomaraswamy, left, pictured in this December 2008 file photo when she served as special representative of the UN secretary-general for children and armed conflict, is one of three people appointed to lead to a UN fact-finding mission to Burma. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma will refuse entry to members of a United Nations probe focusing on allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims, an official said on Friday.

The government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had already said it would not cooperate with a mission set up after a Human Rights Council resolution was adopted in March.

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come,” said Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Naypyidaw.

“Our missions worldwide are advised accordingly,” he said, explaining that visas to enter Burma would not be issued to the mission’s appointees or staff.

Suu Kyi, who came to power last year amid a transition from military rule, leads Burma through the specially created position of “state counsellor,” but is also minister of foreign affairs.

Although she does not oversee the military, Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to stand up for the more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Arakan.

She said during a trip to Sweden this month that the UN mission “would have created greater hostility between the different communities.” The majority in Arakan are ethnic Arakanese Buddhists who, like many in Buddhist-majority Burma, see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Some 75,000 Rohingya fled northwestern Arakan State to Bangladesh late last year after the Burma Army carried out a security operation in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents that killed nine border police.

A UN report in February, based on interviews with some of the Rohingya refugees, said the response involved mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya, and “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.

Burma, along with neighbours China and India, dissociated itself from the March resolution brought by the European Union, which called for a mission to look into the allegations in Arakan as well as reports of abuses in ethnic conflicts in the north of the country.

Indira Jaising, an advocate from the Supreme Court of India, was appointed to lead the mission in May. The other two members are Harvard-trained Sri Lankan lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy and Australian consultant Christopher Dominic.

Burma insists that a domestic investigation — headed by former lieutenant general and Vice President Myint Swe — is sufficient to look into the allegations in Arakan State.

“Why do they try to use unwarranted pressure when the domestic mechanisms have not been exhausted?” said Kyaw Zeya.

“It will not contribute to our efforts to solve the issues in a holistic manner,” he said.

An advisory panel headed by former UN chief Kofi Annan is set to propose solutions for the broader issues in Arakan but has not been asked to investigate human rights abuses.