Myanmar authorities on Tuesday prohibited the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights to the country from visiting the towns of Laiza and Hpakant in violence-rocked Kachin state because of security concerns, a state government official said.
Instead, Yanghee Lee, who is visiting Myanmar to look at the human rights situation in volatile areas of the country, stopped at internally displaced persons camps run by the Kachin Baptist Convention near the towns of Myitkyina and Waingmaw, said Kachin state attorney general D. Sinran.
Lee met members of the Kachin state government members on Monday and discussed women’s rights and people who have been internally displaced by fighting between Myanmar soldiers and ethnic armed groups in the mountainous state on Myanmar’s border with China.
When asked by RFA’s Myanmar Service about authorities’ refusal to grant her permission to visit the two areas and any conclusions she had drawn from where she did go, Lee said: “I’m disappointed. I’m not sure yet. I have to look around more.”
On Wednesday, Lee will visit Rakhine state to probe reports of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar security forces amid a crackdown in the northern part of the state following deadly attacks on border guard posts last October.
Nearly 90 people have been killed in the violence, which has forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh—about 65,000 according to the U.N.’s estimate.
Lee began her 12-day visit at the invitation of the government on Monday to visit northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, where thousands of people have been displaced by renewed fighting in a long conflict between government soldiers and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and to look into the situation in northern Rakhine.
U.N officials, including Lee, have been critical of the government’s handling of the Rakhine crisis, specifically the denial of access by independent media and international humanitarian groups to areas affected by the violence.
‘We don’t want to hear the word war’
Bran Aung, a refugee camp leader in Winemaw, a township in Myitkyina district, said Lee asked about the camp’s situation and how long the female residents have lived there.
“I told her that the refugees are in more danger than we were before because we have less support and not enough school buildings for refugee students,” he said.
“The most important thing for us is to return home. If we do, we can work on our land for survival. We don’t know how much authorities can do for us.”
Bran Aung said that only talks and compromise can bring peace to the region.
“We don’t want to hear the word ‘war’ anymore,” he said. “We want to ask both sides, the government army and the KIA, to please stop fighting.”
Fighting in Shan state
Lee will also look into how intensifying skirmishes between government soldiers and ethnic militias have affected citizens in the volatile northern part of Shan state, directly south of Kachin.
Government troops are preparing to fight Ta’ang National Liberation Army rebels in hostilities near the town of Namhsan, said Tun Wa, a Namhsan resident and member of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
The TNLA has occupied the west side of the town, while Myanmar army troop have held the east side, he said.
“They are not fighting yet,” he said. “Some local residents are leaving their homes, and some are hiding inside their homes because they see both sides have deployed their troops. All shops are closed.”
Later reports said that the situation in Namhsan has become stable after TNLA troops started leaving the area.
The TNLA is part of the Northern Alliance of four ethnic militias that launched coordinated attacks on Nov. 20 on 10 government and military targets in war-torn northern Shan state.
The other members of the alliance are the KIA, Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
The TNLA has also been fighting another ethnic armed group—the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA)—in the region since late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) between the government and eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.
The clashes have resulted in an increase in the number of internal refugees and civilian deaths and have stymied the efforts of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to bring warring ethnic militias to the negotiating table.
The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting between government soldiers and ethnic armed groups in Kachin and the northern part of neighboring Shan state.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min and Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.