UN expert urges access to Myanmar's conflict-hit Rakhine

UN expert urges access to Myanmar's conflict-hit Rakhine
United Nation's special representative for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, speaks during a press conference, in Yangon, Myanmar, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, her first visit to the country. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A U.N. expert on the impact of conflict on children expressed concern Tuesday over a lack of access to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where army-led violence has prompted about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh since last August.

“The figures we started receiving about killing and maiming and sexual violence are worrisome, but it’s even more worrisome that we cannot see the picture clearly for lack of monitoring ability,” Virginia Gamba told reporters in Yangon.

Gamba, who is the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, met with Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, armed forces chief Senior General Soe Win and other officials during her two-day visit to the Buddhist-majority country.

She said she asked the government to allow her team access to Rakhine state, and believes the request will be granted in the coming weeks.

Gamba said she emphasized in her meetings with Myanmar authorities that any return of refugees be safe and voluntary. Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to begin the repatriation of Rohingya from overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, but many refugees say they fear they will face unsafe and unfree conditions if they return.

In 2012, Myanmar’s military and government signed a Joint Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of children in the armed forces. Shortly after the signing, more than 840 children were released from the military.

Gamba said other aspects of the Joint Action Plan have not been fully implemented and must be speeded up.

“I had frank and constructive discussion with the authorities of Myanmar including the way forward in completing the implementation of the Joint Action Plan,” Gamba said in a statement. “Many measures have already been put in place but we need to expedite completion of this Joint Action Plan.”

Myanmar’s army has been accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, forced labor, rape and other abuses against the country’s many minority groups. More than 20 armed ethnic groups are currently active.