UN special rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee conducts a press conference in Yangon on January 20, 2017 during the conclusion of a 12-day mission to investigate escalating violence in Myanmar's restive ethnic border areas. The government had denied UN human rights official Yanghee Lee access to violence-hit parts of Shan and Kachin states during her 12-day monitoring mission. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD

UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee gave a grim overview of the human rights situation in Myanmar after a 12-day monitoring mission (http://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/un-rapporteur-to-burma-denounces-human-rights-failures.html). Lee was strongly critical of the government’s attitude, which she said systematically aimed to “defend, dismiss, and deny” allegations of human rights abuses. She said she was blocked from visiting several areas, including the northern city of Laiza, a Kachin Independence Army stronghold.

Lee spent several days visiting villages in Rakhine state, where she was told that ethnic Rohingya Muslims burnt down their own homes in order to have better ones built for them by aid groups, a depiction she said was “incredible” and “far-fetched.” She described the Myanmar government’s peculiar structure as “three-legged”, reference to the fact that the border, defense and home affairs ministries are still controlled by the military. The 2008 military-drafted constitution still enshrines a political role for the military. The UN Special Rapporteur said the armed forces’ Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing refused to meet her.

Missing religious leaders held by the army

The Myanmar army confirmed that two ethnic Kachin religious leaders who disappeared a month ago have been detained over allegations of being “recruiters, informers and rumor-mongers” for the ethnic armed groups that form the Northern alliance, led by the rebel Kachin Independence Army. Relatives interviewed by the Myanmar Times denied the allegations (http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/24641-tatmadaw-confirms-two-mong-koe-church-leaders-were-detained.html).

Dumdaw Nawng Lat, a pastor at the Mong Koe Kachin Baptist Church in Northern Shan state, and Langjaw Gam Seng, a religious youth leader, were last seen on December 24 after helping journalists report on stories about the military’s alleged destruction of their local church. The military denied the claims and countered that the building was being used by the Northern Alliance to story ammunition.

The military has long used the tactic of arresting local people in ethnic areas to cut local support to armed groups. They are often held on accusations of assisting rebel groups, a criminal offense under the country’s Unlawful Association Act.

New start for Yangon’s bus system

A new Yangon Bus Service (YBS) aims to streamline the old system with fewer lines, downsized from 300 to 70, and more regular reliable service. The new system’s roll-out, however, was plagued with problems, with riders complaining about irregular services and routes stopping hours earlier than their scheduled last runs.

Dr. Maung Aung, secretary of the Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA), was quoted by the Irrawaddy (http://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/rangoon-bus-rollout-gets-mixed-reviews.html) saying that “some buses are still competing against each other and there are some complaints about misconduct and overcharging by bus drivers and conductors.” Under the old system, buses often raced to pick-up passengers.

On the first day of service only 2,900 of 3,700 buses were operational. Buses manufactured before 1995 will be allowed to operate temporarily until the new fleet is operation. The reform plans have also raised concerns with bus operators concerned low fares won’t cover their new costs. “Nothing is certain. Buses could be told to stop operating tomorrow or an order could be issued to install CCTV and air-conditioning the day after tomorrow” a bus owner told the Irrawaddy.

While the new system’s rollout had plenty of glitches, passengers said there is no going back. “There are still many inconveniences with YBS. But I don’t want to go back to the [old system]. Never again,” a passenger said to the Irrawaddy.

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