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Originally published Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 7:57 AM

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UN rights envoy probes ethnic clashes in Myanmar

A United Nations human rights expert kicked off a weeklong visit to Myanmar on Monday by focusing on deadly strife between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas that shook a western area in June.

The Associated Press

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YANGON, Myanmar —

A United Nations human rights expert kicked off a weeklong visit to Myanmar on Monday by focusing on deadly strife between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas that shook a western area in June.

Tomas Ojea Quintana's met with Myanmar's minister of border affairs for a briefing on the situation in northwestern Rakhine state. At least 78 people were killed in communal violence there last month.

Quintana plans to visit the area on Tuesday and told reporters he would reserve comment until after his trip.

In a pre-arrival statement, Quintana mentioned the violence in Rakhine - which rights groups say mostly targeted the Rohingyas - as one of the "challenges" facing Myanmar despite its recent political reforms.

Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its ethnic groups and many in the country consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The United Nations says there are about 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar and considers them to be among the most persecuted people in the world.

Quintana's evaluation is likely to be regarded as a yardstick for measuring reforms undertaken by elected President Thein Sein after decades of repressive military rule.

Earlier Monday, the envoy visited Yangon's infamous Insein Prison, where he said he interviewed prisoners of conscience. His trip will also include meetings with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and government officials.

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