The United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar on Wednesday met privately on Wednesday with the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw to discuss recent violence in volatile Rakhine state, as she nears the end of a 12-day biannual visit to Myanmar.
During the meeting, Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, condemned the Oct. 9 attacks on border guard posts in northern Rakhine that left nine officers dead, according to an announcement by the foreign affairs ministry.
She also discussed the security situation in the northern part of the state, which has been under lockdown since the October attacks, and reports of security forces committing atrocities against Rohingya Muslims who live in the region, the ministry said.
Lee and Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also Myanmar’s state counselor and foreign affairs minister, also discussed increasing humanitarian assistance for people displaced by fighting between the government army and ethnic guerilla groups in war-torn Shan and Kachin states, the ministry said.
Later on Wednesday, Lee met with Vice President Myint Swe, chairman of a national-level commission investigating the situation in northern Rakhine state, and asked him about the group’s investigation methods for probing the violence that has occurred there, said commission member Saw Thalay Saw.
The 13-member commission visited northern Rakhine earlier this month and last December to investigate the attacks on border guard stations in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships and reports of atrocities during the subsequent security operations.
On Jan. 3, the commission issued an interim report of its findings and said its interviews of local Rohingya villagers and women about rape allegations yielded insufficient evidence to take legal action, and that its investigations into accusations of arson, torture, and illegal arrests were still under way.
‘We told her how we did it’
“We talked mostly about the Maungdaw attacks with Yanghee Lee, and she asked us how we investigated them,” Saw Thalay Saw told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We told her how we did it.”
One Muslim woman who said she was from Khyet Yoe Pyin village alleged that security forces had raped her and had killed her husband, two sons, and two daughters, he said. But when commission members went to the village and asked other residents about the fate of the family, they said that the family did not live there.
Saw Thalay Saw also said that the commission members showed a photo of the woman to the residents, but they said they did not know her.
“We explained to Yanghee Lee all the steps of the investigation we conducted in that case,” he said.
“I feel that she is satisfied with today’s meeting, and I hope we will see a good outcome after she submits her report on Maungdaw to the U.N.,” he said, in a reference to the report on the findings of Lee's visit that she must give to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.
During her current visit to Myanmar, which began on Jan. 9, Lee did not allow authorities or police to join her when she stopped in villages in Maungdaw township to talk to residents. She also met with Rohingya Muslims in adjacent Buthidaung township and visited the local prison there.
Nearly 90 people have been killed in the violence, which has forced about 65,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to the U.N.’s estimate, where some have alleged that security forces carried out indiscriminate killings of civilians, torture, rape, and arson. The government and military have denied the allegations.
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.
‘They will submit our demands’
Meanwhile, an advisory commission created by Aung San Suu Kyi and headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to help resolve the religious and ethnic divisions in Rakhine state, met on Wednesday with ethnic Rakhine and Muslim residents in two villages.
The commission members visited Muslims who live in internally displaced persons camps in Kyaukpyu village and ethnic Kaman Muslim camps in Ramree village, whose homes were burned during communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.
Tin Hlaing Win, secretary of Kaman National Development Party who met with nine-member commission, said he told the panel that the Muslims have been losing their ethnic rights for the last four years and that they want to return to the land where they previously lived.
“The commission members told us that they will submit our demands to the central government with their recommendations,” he said. “We hope we will get equal rights like other ethnic groups after the commission submits its report [to the government].”
Also on Wednesday, more than 40 Myanmar-based civil society groups issued a statement calling for a “truly independent” international investigation into the situation in Rakhine state.
“Specifically, we recommend a commission of inquiry to fully assess the totality of the situation in Rakhine state and provide clear recommendations for the current government to effectively address and prevent further problems in Rakhine state,” the statement said.
“We believe that a truly independent investigation would help Myanmar overcome the complicated problems in Rakhine state, and help rebalance the world’s focus on the overall human rights challenges faced by all the people of Myanmar,” it said.
Their statement comes a day before foreign ministers of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, an intergovernmental body of 57 member nations, meets in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to discuss the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine state.
Reported by Kyaw Thu and Kyaw Soe Lin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.