Myanmar is sliding towards conflict, UN investigator says

GENEVA (Reuters) - Myanmar is sliding towards conflict as the government backtracks on pledges to protect human rights and "fear, distrust and hostility" spread, a United Nations investigator said in a report published on Monday.

Lee Yang Hee, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, saw "no improvement" for displaced Rohingya Muslims since her previous visit last July to investigate allegations of mistreatment of them by the Buddhist majority in Rakhine state.

She observed "a growing atmosphere of fear, distrust and hostility" during her latest visit in January, when she was publicly denounced as a "whore" and a "bitch" by a prominent Buddhist monk.

Lee witnessed "abysmal" conditions at a camp where displaced Muslims were being held "for their own security", Rakhine's chief minister told her.

"Many people told the Special Rapporteur that they had two options: to stay and die or to leave by boat," said Lee's report to the UN Human Rights Council.

Human rights violations in Rakhine were causing a "domino effect" in the region as people were smuggled or trafficked out to Thailand or Malaysia.

The mostly stateless minority was likely to be the main loser from a new law initiated by the Rakhine National Party that restricts political party membership to full and naturalised citizens, she said.

Moreover, Myanmar's Constitutional Tribunal had stripped voting rights in an upcoming constitutional referendum from all temporary registration card holders. President Thein Sein has said these cards would expire this month.

Lee said this was a backward step for reform and called for "all habitual residents of Myanmar" to be able to vote in the election and referendum.

"The government should focus on creating an empowered population, including the youth and women, to ensure that a new generation can work together to create a prosperous and stable country and reverse the current slide towards extreme nationalism, religious hatred and conflict," Lee wrote.

Ethnic tensions could worsen because of draft bills on religious conversion, inter-faith marriage, monogamy and population control, she added.

There was also an alarming escalation of violence near the Chinese border, prompting a state of emergency that Lee said must observe "strict accountability and safeguards for human rights".

She cited information that Myanmar's security forces were still recruiting children and that the number of political prisoners in Myanmar could be "much higher" than the official total of 27.

She also cited the use of live ammunition by the police, restrictions on media and evictions of farmers protesting against a proposed copper mine.