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UN envoy says Myanmar failed to protect him in attack

Tomas Ojea Quintana
at a press conference prior to his departure from Yangon airport on August 21,
2013 (AFP, Soe Than Win)
By AFP
August 21, 2013
YANGON — The UN’s
rights envoy on Myanmar Wednesday slammed the nation’s government for failing
to protect him when his convoy came under attack in a town reeling from
religious unrest.
“The state has
to protect me as a responsibility… This did not happen. The state failed to
protect me,” Tomas Ojea Quintan, the United Nations special rapporteur on
human rights, told reporters at the end of his 10 day visit to the country.
No one is thought
to have been injured in the incident, which occurred on August 19 in the town
of Meiktila, central Myanmar, where anti-Muslim violence in March left at least
44 dead.
In a statement the
UN envoy said his vehicle “was descended upon by a crowd of around 200
people who proceeded to punch and kick the windows and doors of the car while
shouting abuse”.
He said the
incident forced him to abandon plans to visit a local camp, where some 1,600
displaced Muslims are sheltering.
“The fear that
I felt during this incident, being left totally unprotected by the nearby
police, gave me an insight into the fear residents would have felt when being
chased down by violent mobs during the violence last March,” he said.
He reiterated
reports of security forces failing to stop the March unrest, saying
“police allegedly stood by as angry mobs beat, stabbed and burned”
their victims to death.
Attacks against
Muslims — who make up an estimated four percent of Myanmar’s population —
have exposed deep fractures in the Buddhist-majority nation and cast a shadow
over its emergence from army rule.
The watchdog
Physicians for Human Rights on Tuesday warned that Myanmar risked
“catastrophic” levels of conflict, including “potential crimes
against humanity and/or genocide” if authorities failed to stem
anti-Muslim hate speech and a culture of impunity around the clashes.
Riots in Meiktila,
sparked by an argument in a gold shop and the brutal murder of a Buddhist monk,
saw Buddhist mobs torch whole Muslim areas in violence that spread to other
parts of the country.
The victims
included more than 20 students and teachers of a Muslim school on the outskirts
of Meiktila, who were set upon by armed men and beaten and burned to death,
according to witnesses interviewed by AFP.
Graphic video
footage given to AFP by activists shows an embankment next to the school turned
into a killing ground, watched over by uniformed police.
After the March
violence, Quintana said the reluctance of security forces to crack down on the
unrest suggested a possible state link to the fighting — a claim rejected by
the government.
The unrest followed
two outbreaks of conflict in western Rakhine state in June and October last
year that left around 200 people dead, mainly Rohingya Muslims who are seen by
many in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A sense of deep
distrust between Muslims, Buddhists and the security forces pervades the state,
which Quintana visited at the start of his trip.
At least one person
was killed and around 10 injured earlier this month in a violent clash in a
camp for dispossessed Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine that broke out just days
before Quintana toured the area.
In June, five
Muslims including three Rohingya women were killed by security forces who
opened fire during disputes in two separate incidents in camps in Rakhine.