KYAUKPHYU TOWNSHIP, Rakhine State — About 200 people protested the arrival of a UN human rights envoy at Sittwe Airport in troubled Rakhine State on Wednesday morning, according to residents and police.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and her delegation are in Myanmar from July 10-21 to gage developments in the human rights situation. It is the UN investigator’s sixth visit to the country.
Ultranationalist monk U Wirathu also arrived in Rakhine on Tuesday amid rising tensions between the local Buddhist and Muslim communities. Security forces in the region are on high alert after a flurry of machete attacks in villages of Rakhine’s north and the killing of a Rohingya Muslim man by a mob of Rakhine Buddhists in Sittwe, the state capital, on July 4.
Authorities permitted the protest at Sittwe Airport, said Rakhine police official Cho Lwin of police station no. 2, who declined to name the person or organization behind the rally. Some media reports stated that a small local group, the Rakhine Ahlin Takar, organized the demonstration.
Sittwe residents told The Irrawaddy that authorities deployed nearly 100 policemen, some of them armed with assault rifles, on the road leading to Sittwe airport.
Protesters held banners reading: ‘‘Reconcile between South and North Korea,’’ referring to the poor relations between North Korea and Lee’s home country, South Korea, and implying Lee should divert her attention there.
Lee and her delegation are expected to arrive in Buthidaung Township on Wednesday afternoon, where, according to residents and police, another protest against the UN envoy is planned.
Police Maj Kyaw Mya Win of Maungdaw Township, where Lee is expected to visit, said they have not received any requests to protest, adding that security forces would be tightened for the delegation’s visit.
Lee held several closed-door meetings in southern Rakhine’s Kyaukphyu Township on Tuesday with civil society organizations, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and local authorities.
U Tun Kyi, coordinator of the Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association, joined one of the meetings with Lee at Kyaukphyu Palace Hotel.
He told The Irrawaddy his group discussed four topics with the envoy: the situation of farmers in the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ); fishermen losing waters to oil tankers docking at Maday Island deep-sea port; unresolved problems of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)’s oil pipeline, which starts in Kyaukphyu; and trust building between Muslim IDPs and Buddhists in Rakhine.
U Maung Hla, an IDP from Kyauktalone camp, located on the outskirts of Kyaukphyu, attended a meeting with Lee on Tuesday evening. He recalled telling the envoy about the possibility of relocating IDPs back to their original homes in downtown Kyaukphyu.
“We believe that we can live peacefully downtown because whenever we go shopping, our neighbors treat us kindly. I think we are ready to go back to our homes,” said U Maung Hla.
He added that more was discussed in the meeting, including freedom of movement, delays to pink national ID cards—denoting full citizenship—IDPs struggling with years of unemployment, and the situations of healthcare and education for children.
Controversial monk U Wirathu, known for his incendiary racial and religious rhetoric, claimed his trip to northern Rakhine was not related to the UN envoy’s visit to the area, adding that he would donate food to villagers.
According to local news site Narinjara, Dr. Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), told reporters on July 10 that Lee would experience “huge protests” during her visit to Rakhine and the ANP would not meet her.
Lee is scheduled to visit Kachin and Shan states to submit a report on the human rights situation in Myanmar to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.