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UN special rapporteur denied visits to Kachin State conflict sites

A file photo of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee. (Photo: DVB)

Yanghee Lee was denied access to conflict-wracked Hpakant and Waignmaw townships in Kachin State this week as she undertakes her fifth visit to Burma in her capacity as UN special rapporteur on the country’s human rights situation, with the government citing security concerns.

Aye Win, a spokesman for the United Nations in Burma, said Tuesday afternoon that the special rapporteur would return to Rangoon this evening, having cut short her trip to Kachin State in light of the refusal.

“She visited some IDP [internally displaced person] camps in Myitkyina today and is now at the airport to return to Yangon. Tomorrow she is visiting a hard labour camp in Mon State,” he told DVB, adding that some parts of Lee’s trip would require rescheduling after the Kachin State rebuff.

Hpakant is the heart of Burma’s lucrative but rights abuse-plagued jade industry, while fighting escalated last month in Waignmaw township as the Burma Army pushed nearer to the Laiza headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army.

Laiza, on the Sino-Burmese border, had been on Lee’s planned itinerary amid reports of civilians newly displaced by the fighting.

Sporadic clashes between the KIA and the Burma Army have also been reported in Hpakant township in recent months.

Later this week the special rapporteur intends to visit another conflict zone in northern Arakan State, where a crackdown by security forces continues in the wake of 9 October attacks on border police posts. The affected region has been a virtual no-go zone for media and humanitarian aid groups as security forces undertake “clearance operations” that have killed dozens of Rohingya Muslims as part of the search for the attacks’ perpetrators, which the government says are Islamic militants.

This week the International Organization for Migration said about 65,000 Rohingya refugees have amassed along the Bangladesh border after fleeing northern Rakhine State in the wake of the attacks and subsequent security crackdown. One-third of the refugees crossed the border in the last week alone.

Asked about the Rakhine leg of Lee’s latest Burma tour, Aye Win said a date for the trip had not yet been finalised.

“As to confirming the programme there, we will know when we get there,” he added.

Lee’s trip was announced on Friday, in a message that indicated she intended to visit Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships — the area subject to the security crackdown since October — as well as the Arakan State capital Sittwe.

“Apart from what is happening in Rakhine [Arakan], the escalation in fighting in Kachin and Shan, 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,” Lee was quoted as saying.

The special rapporteur’s visit, which began on Monday, will conclude on 20 January.