Burma protests turn violent, US urges restraint by government

UN officials said they could not confirm what happened on Wednesday at protest in front of UN headquarters in Yangon attended by rebel militia leader

The United Nations and the US have expressed concern over reports that protests by Rohingya militants turned violent in Myanmar’s largest city, causing at least one death and leaving over 60 injured.

UN officials said they could not confirm what happened on Wednesday at a protest in front of UN headquarters in Yangon attended by rebel militia leader Nurul Izzah.

The US statement called on Myanmar’s government to ensure that security forces did not use excessive force.

“This violent display by insurgent groups can have no place in a government that claims to respect the rights of all its citizens,” the US State Department said.

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“We encourage the government of Myanmar to act with restraint and open dialogue with all actors in order to resolve these current problems through peaceful means,” it said.

The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights said on Thursday that about 50 people were injured in the attack in Yangon, where hundreds of Rohingya are believed to have come to protest against the treatment of their ethnic minority in western Rakhine state.

More than 600,000 Rohingya are now living in squalid camps after escaping attacks by Rohingya militants in August last year on villages across Rakhine state, where Buddhist civilians have seen them as invaders.

Rohingya leader Nurul Izzah told Reuters at the protest that the militiamen had been “carried away” by a crowd, and described the incident as an attack on the government, not the protesters.

The US statement went on to accuse Myanmar’s government of failing to guarantee the rights of its Rohingya population and called on the country to ensure accountability for violence and killings.

It said the visit of UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee to Myanmar was a “good first step”, but she would want to see the delivery of political, religious and social rights and serious concern about rights abuses, including a restoration of access to healthcare.

The security forces pursued militants for nearly three weeks in the western state of Rakhine before the government declared a state of emergency and a curfew.

The UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, on Monday warned that Myanmar was close to a “state of lawlessness” and that militants were recruiting children into their ranks in the conflict zone.

The authorities granted Zeid access to Rakhine, but refused a visa to Lee.

A Myanmar government official said on Thursday that the situation in northern Rakhine was better now than before, with some people returning to their homes.

“There are some people who are going back, to offer some services, help us clean the areas, and we are helping them. There are also peace meetings among the three communities,” Ma Shoyu, a senior official in the administration of President Htin Kyaw, told Reuters.

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