UN envoy urges impartial probe into Myanmar 'killings'

YANGON (AFP) - The UN's rights envoy to Myanmar on Wednesday raised "serious concerns" over the impartiality of a government investigation into allegations of deadly attacks on Rohingya Muslims in unrest-torn Rakhine state.

Tomas Ojea Quintana warned that tensions in Rakhine, following two major waves of unrest that left around 140,000 people displaced and sparked anti-Muslim violence in other parts of the country, could "jeopardise the whole (Myanmar political) transition process".

He said domestic probes had so far failed to satisfactorily address claims of a recent eruption of violence in a remote part of the state, including "the brutal killing of men, women and children, sexual violence against women, and the looting and burning of properties".

Myanmar, whose sweeping political reforms have been overshadowed by religious bloodshed, has strongly denied civilians were killed but authorities said a police officer was presumed dead after a clash in January.

The government has, however, ordered an inquiry into the incident by a committee that is currently in Rakhine state.

"We need to respect that investigation. At the same time I have serious concerns about the possibility for this investigation... to be impartial and independent," Mr Quintana told reporters.

He added that a history of impunity in the former military dictatorship meant "there has never been an independent investigation of any incident".

Mr Quintana, who was concluding his final mission after a six-year mandate, said the probe was due to present its findings on February 28, but that he would urge the UN to aid another inquiry if it did not meet international standards.

"The international community, the United Nations, have a responsibility also in respect to these incidents, which according to the allegations were quite serious," he said.

Mr Quintana said he had met the chief of the state's police, who had admitted that more than 100 officers, armed with live ammunition, had taken part in a search at the village for a missing policeman presumed to have been killed by local people.

He said the authorities denied any deaths or injuries during the operation on January 13 and 14.

The area where the latest violence is believed to have taken place is mainly populated by the stateless Rohingya Muslims, whose movements are strictly controlled by a heavy security presence.

Myanmar's government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Two rounds of unrest in Rakhine state in June and October 2012, largely between local Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority, sparked religious unrest that has since spread across the country leaving about 250 people dead.

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