“We protested on the bridge in the center of the town,” said Htein Min Khaing of the 88 Generation Students group. “After he met with local authorities we tried to pass an open letter to him, but he refused it. So, we blocked his path. Finally he accepted the letter.”
Myanmar’s government and local witnesses have denied a U.N human rights envoy’ claims that his car was attacked by a mob of 200 in Meikhtila, Mandalay region, on Monday night.
At a press conference before his departure from Yangon International Airport on Wednesday, U.N rights rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana raised an incident in Meikhtila when crowds descended on his car at about 10pm on Monday punching and kicking the windows as the police stood back.
“The fear that I felt during this incident, being left totally unprotected by the nearby police, gave me an insight into the fear residents would have felt when being chased down by violent mobs during the violence last March as police allegedly stood by as angry mobs beat, stabbed and burned to death some 43 people,” said Quintana.
Presidential spokesperson Ye Htut told the Associated Press that Quintana was never in danger. He said members of the crowd approached the convoy only to give him a letter and a T-shirt, “so what Quintana said is different from the true situation,” AP reported.
AP quoted Ye Htut as saying that one police car was escorting the U.N rights envoy and 30 other officers were controlling the crowd. Police gave protection to him and people had no intention to hurt him. As the police successfully cleared a path and the convoy passed without incident, the spokesman said.
A reporter of the Eleven Media Group (EMG) who was at the scene together with a reporter from state-run newspaper said Quintana’s allegations were totally wrong.
“Since 5pm, about 1,000 people had been waiting to protest against Quintana. When he arrived, there were only about 200 as the others left because of the night-time curfew. The convoy passed just for seconds. Holding placards, they only tried to give him a letter of protest and a T-shirt. The people did not act as he had claimed, said Meikhtila reporter of EMG Wunna Soe.
The reporter covered daily news about Meikhtila violence when it broke out in March. He played an important role in EMG’s efforts to cover news with the aim of stopping mass killings. In the latest incident when Quintana arrived, Wunna Soe had been at the scene since 5pm to cover the news.
He said the U.N envoy would not face the protest if he chose the other way to enter the town.
One local witness Daw May Thet Oo said:
“There were about 150 protestors when Quintana arrived at the top of Meikhtila bridge. They thought he was in the first car of the convoy. The protestors stepped forward to make sure Quintana saw their placards. But traffic police and locals cleared the path. It did not even take three minutes to pass through. The crowd only wanted him to see their protest banners and hear their voice of protest. They did no harm to him. The convoy stopped for a minute and continued to go. Later, three locals went to the government’s guesthouse to give him an open letter. The letter was left to the district commissioner as he promised to give it to Quintana.”
“The protest letter carried points showing objection to Quintana’s reports to the United Nations. The Miekhtila violence broke out after Islamists killed a Buddhist monk. The situation worsened as the Muslims from Mingalar Zeyon Quarter were shouting with abusive words all the night,” added the local witness.
Another local Ko Dimaw Soe said: “The protestors only wanted him to show the banners of protest and their voices. They did not harm him. The convoy stopped only for a minute. Nothing happened seriously.”
“Ko Mae Pa, Ko Dimaw Soe and Daw May Thet Oo went to the guesthouse to give an open letter. We wanted him to know the feelings of the entire people of the town but we had no intention of endangering his life. We held no weapons except placards,” said Ko Htain Win Mon from Meikhtila.
“We tightened security at the entrance of Meikhtila Bridge in the afternoon before the UN envoy arrived. We sent another ten plain-cloth policemen to the entrance of the bridge since 6 pm. We had ten other policemen near the bridge. In the nearby area, ten policemen stood by in a car. The policemen were well-equipped with arms. Two traffic policemen were also commending the traffic at the entrance of PhaungdawU Bridge. Minister for Security and Border Affairs Colonel Aung Kyaw Moe, Head of District Police Colonel Set Nay Lin, Meikhtila District Commissioner Tin Maung Soe and his team were in the UN convoy. In the car of the head of district police were seven policemen. The convoy arrived at the entrance of Meikhtila Bridge at 10:35 pm. We arrived at the Yeiktha, over a half mile away from the bridge, within five minutes. We left the guesthouse at 10:55 pm. It did not take ten minutes to stay out of the cars. They were sitting in their car most of the time. We had no danger throughout the period,” a security officer from Meikhtila said.
“What I saw was the crowds came forward to the road and protested when the first car arrived. Quintana was not in that car. Immediately, traffic policemen and locals cleared the road. Although the crowds came forward wishing the UN envoy to see the placards, traffic policemen, policemen and locals cleared the road for the cars in the convoy. The protesters on motorbikes went after the convoy shouting “We don’t want Quintana, no Quintana”. There were an estimated twenty motorcycles and forty protesters. No danger caused. When the convoy went past the crowds, some banged the cars but they did not mean to do harm. They were intending to make sure Quintana’s convoy saw the placards and voices of protest. The crowds came forward vehemently, only intending to show their protest but they didn’t want to do any harm. And the convoy met the crowds as they passed through Kankaung side road to Meikhtila and Mandalay. If they went from Thigone side road, they didn’t need to go pass the bridge and they would not met the protesters. The crowds had arrived at the top of the bridge since 6:00 pm. The convoy arrived in Meikhtila after 10:00 pm. If they went via the other way, they could go directly to the guesthouse. Both ways have about the same distance,” said the EMG reporter.
At the press conference, Quintana who had arrived in Myanmar eighth times, seemed emotional when he explained about the Meikhtila incident, said a reporter present. The reporter said he was concerned over international pressure, including from OIC and Islamist communities on his report to the UN General Assembly.
Quintana has demanded amending the 1982 Citizenship Law. However, the Myanmar citizens are losing trust in Quintana because Myanmar will face illegal influxes of Bangladeshies if the law is not in effect.