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Burma Sentences UN Staff to Prison for Rakhine Violence

  • Daniel Schearf

BANGKOK — Burma has sentenced two United Nations staff members and one U.N. partner, detained since June, to prison terms for alleged involvement in communal violence in western Rakhine state.

A United Nations spokesman in Rangoon confirmed Monday a Burma court sentenced two of its staff members and a third U.N. partner to prison.

Aye Win said a district court in Maungdaw, in Burma’s western Rakhine state, handed down the sentences on Friday. But authorities have yet to explain the details. He said they were not informed of the trial in advance and the accused were refused lawyers.

“Well, we haven’t had access to these staff members," said Aye Win. "And, we’ve asked for access and we’ve asked for clarification on the sentences.”

Hla Thein, chairman of the government’s Rakhine Riot Information Committee, denied the three were refused lawyers.

He told VOA’s Burmese Service one U.N. staff member was found guilty of arson and given six years in prison. Others were guilty of inciting violence and promoting hatred between Buddhists and Muslims and were given between two and three years. All three were guilty of having illegal amounts of foreign currency, he says, and all of them worked for the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR.

U.N. Spokesman Aye Win said one UNHCR and one WFP staff member were jailed along with a third unidentified UNHCR partner.

He said all of them are Burma nationals.

"Well, obviously [we’re] very disappointed at the outcome of these cases," he said. "Especially as we had a very positive development when some of the staffers were released last week. So, we had hoped also that these staffers who were under detention would be given the same consideration."

Burma media reports say authorities last week released two people working for the United Nations and four working for Doctors Without Borders.

Burma detained at least twelve humanitarian aid workers, including U.N. staff, in June for alleged involvement in Rakhine state communal unrest.

Sectarian violence between the majority Buddhist Rakhine and minority Muslim Rohingya exploded after a busload of Rohingya were killed over an alleged rape.

Rohingya and Rakhine mobs attacked and burned villages, leaving at least 88 people dead.

The United Nations and other international bodies called for a credible investigation into the violence.

Burma’s government appointed a commission to look into the incidents, which it says will act independently.
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