Myanmar protesters gather ahead of UN rights visit

YANGON - Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside an airport in restive western Myanmar on Thursday in protest against a planned human rights visit by a United Nations envoy, police said.

Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, was due to arrive in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, which has seen deadly spates of sectarian violence between majority Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in recent years.

In August 2013 a previous UN rights envoy was forced to abandon plans to visit Rohingya displaced by a spate of anti-Muslim violence in the town of Meiktila, central Myanmar, when his convoy came under attack by an angry mob.

Lee's visit comes days after the UN adopted a resolution urging Myanmar to grant citizenship to the minority group, viewed by the state as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants with restrictions placed on their movement, marriages and economic opportunities.

"About 1,000 residents have been gathering since this morning to protest against the UN Special Rapporteur," a police officer in Sittwe told AFP, withholding his name.

"We will give full security to her when she arrives," he added.

The UN has previously described the Rohingya as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled Rakhine since clashes erupted between them and Buddhists in 2012, leaving about 200 people dead and up to 140,000, mostly Rohingya, displaced.

The exodus has seen most head for mainly Muslim Malaysia in treacherous journeys by sea, with many falling into the hands of unscrupulous people-traffickers.

Lee arrived in Myanmar on Tuesday for a 10-day visit to the former junta-ruled country to gather first-hand information on the current human rights situation in Rakhine as well as northern Kachin state.

Kachin, a majority Christian state, has long been racked by a civil war between troops and ethnic Kachin rebels. Around 100,000 people have fled their homes since a 17-year ceasefire ended in 2011.