UN envoy examines Myanmar rights

Tomas Quintana travels to border areas to look at human rights progress before polls.

    Quintana's trip will see him visiting various areas in Myanmar to assess human rights progress [EPA]

    "Mr Quintana will visit Butheetaung prison tomorrow," a Myanmar official told the AFP news agency.

    The official said Quintana would meet border control authorities at the prison and have dinner with state police.

    'Troubling record'

    Rakhine is home to thousands of Rohingya, an impoverished Muslim minority group that Myanmar refuses to recognise.

    Coinciding with Quintana's visit, Amnesty International released a report on Tuesday detailing the repression of activists, including Rakhine monks, who the group said led a 2008 uprising that was bloodily suppressed with the loss of at least 31 lives.

    Quintana wants to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, but officials said it may not be possible [AFP]

    "Any resolution of the country's deeply troubling human rights record has to take into account the rights and aspirations of the country's large population of ethnic minorities," the London-based group's Myanmar expert Benjamin Zawacki said.

    Zawacki told Al Jazeera on Tuesday: "The political opposition in Myanmar is much more widespread geographically and much more ethnically diverse than is often given credit.

    "Most of the time, when people think of ethnic minorities, it is in the context of armed groups ... but what is not often acknowledged is that they play an integral role in the mainstream political opposition in terms of party politics and electoral politics, which is important in an election year."

    Many Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh where they are now facing mass arrests and no access to proper food and shelter, according to statement released on Tuesday by activists at The Arakan Project.

    Quintana began his trip on Monday, days after Myanmar authorities freed a key aide to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's detained opposition leader.

    The Argentinean envoy met judges and opposition lawyers in the former capital Yangon on Monday, but officials said there were no currently no plans for him to meet either Aung San Suu Kyi or Than Shwe, the ruling junta's chief.

    'Critical time'

    Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, remains under house arrest and has said it is too early for her National League for Democracy (NLD) to decide if it will take part in polls.

    The NLD leader's house arrest was extended last August by 18 months when she was convicted over an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside house.

    The extension effectively ruled her out of the polls and sparked global outrage.

    Quintana, making his third trip to Myanmar since his appointment in 2008, is due to return to Yangon on Thursday to visit the notorious Insein prison, where many dissidents are held, and will later meet ethnic representatives.

    On Friday he will go to the remote capital Naypyidaw to meet the home affairs minister, foreign minister, chief justice, chief attorney-general, police chief and human rights officials before leaving Myanmar, according to an official.

    Quintana has said he wants to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 14 of the last 20 years since the NLD won the elections in 1990 but was prevented from taking power by the military.

    In a statement last week Quintana said 2010 was "a critical time for the people of Myanmar".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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