UN, US pres­sure Suu Kyi on cri­sis

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Ayee Macaraig

MYAN­MAR leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced ris­ing global pres­sure yes­ter­day to solve the cri­sis for her na­tion’s dis­placed Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, meet­ing the UN chief and Amer­ica’s top diplo­mat in the Philip­pines.

UN Sec­re­tar y-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res told the No­bel lau­re­ate that hun­dreds of thou­sands of dis­placed Mus­lims who had fled to Bangladesh should be al­lowed to re­turn to their homes in Myan­mar.

“The Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral high­lighted that strength­ened ef­forts to en­sure hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess, safe, dig­ni­fied, vol­un­tary and sus­tained re­turns, as well as true rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween com­mu­ni­ties, would be es­sen­tial,” a UN state­ment said, sum­maris­ing com­ments to Suu Kyi.

Guter­res’s com­ments came hours be­fore Suu Kyi sat down with US Sec­re­tary of

State Rex Tiller­son on the side­lines of the East Asia Sum­mit in Manila.

Wash­ing­ton has been cau­tious in its state­ments on the sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine, and has avoided out­right crit­i­cism of Suu Kyi.

Sup­port­ers say she must nav­i­gate a path be­tween out­rage abroad and pop­u­lar feel­ing in a ma­jor­ity Bud­dhist coun­try where most peo­ple be­lieve the Ro­hingya are in­ter­lop­ers.

At a photo op­por­tu­nity at the top of her meet­ing with Tiller­son, Suu Kyi ig­nored a jour­nal­ist who asked if the Ro­hingya were cit­i­zens of Myan­mar.

At a later ap­pear­ance af­ter the meet­ing, Tiller­son – who is headed to Myan­mar today – was asked by re­porters if he “had a mes­sage for Burmese lead­ers”.

He ap­par­ently ig­nored the ques­tion, re­ply­ing only: “Thank you”, ac­cord­ing to a pool re­port of the en­counter.

A se­nior US State Depart­ment of­fi­cial later said the top diplo­mat would press Myan­mar’s pow­er­ful army chief today to halt the vi­o­lence in Rakhine and make it safe for Ro­hingya to re­turn. The of­fi­cial did not com­ment on whether Tiller­son would raise the threat of mil­i­tary sanc­tions, which US law­mak­ers have pushed for.

Canada’s Justin Trudeau said he had spo­ken to Myan­mar’s de facto leader.

“I had an ex­tended con­ver­sa­tion with . . . Aung San Suu Kyi, about the plight of the Mus­lim refugees in Rakhine state,” he told a press con­fer­ence. “This is of tremen­dous con­cern to Canada and many, many other coun­tries around the world. We are al­ways look­ing at . . . how we can help, how we can move for­ward in a way that re­duces vi­o­lence, that em­pha­sises the rule of law and that en­sures pro­tec­tion for all cit­i­zens.”

Over 600,000 Ro­hingya have flooded into Bangladesh since late Au­gust, and now live in the squalor of the world’s big­gest refugee camp.

The cri­sis erupted af­ter Ro­hingya rebels at­tacked po­lice posts in Myan­mar’s Rakhine state, trig­ger­ing a mil­i­tary crack­down that saw hun­dreds of vil­lages re­duced to ashes and sparked a mas­sive ex­o­dus.

The UN says the Myan­mar mil­i­tary is en­gaged in a “co­or­di­nated and sys­tem­atic” at­tempt to purge the re­gion of Ro­hingya in what amounts to a “text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing”.

The stream of des­per­ate refugees who escape across the river­ine bor­der bring with them sto­ries of rape, mur­der and the torch­ing of vil­lages by sol­diers and Bud­dhist mobs.

The Burmese gov­ern­ment in­sists mil­i­tary ac­tion in Rakhine is a pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse to vi­o­lence by mil­i­tants.

Fol­low­ing its first of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cri­sis, the army pub­lished a re­port this week in which it cleared it­self of any abuses. How­ever, it heav­ily re­stricts ac­cess to the re­gion by jour­nal­ists and aid groups, and ver­i­fi­ca­tion of events on the ground is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.

Suu Kyi, a for­mer democ­racy ac­tivist, has been lam­basted by rights groups for fail­ing to speak up for the Ro­hingya or con­demn fes­ter­ing anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment in the coun­try.

Sup­port­ers say she does not have the power to stop the pow­er­ful mil­i­tary, which ruled the coun­try for decades un­til her party came to power fol­low­ing 2015 elec­tions.

In a sum­mit on Mon­day night with lead­ers of the 10-mem­ber As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, of which Myan­mar is a mem­ber, Guter­res also voiced con­cern about the Ro­hingya.

He said that the dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya was a “wor­ry­ing es­ca­la­tion in a pro­tracted tragedy”. He also de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as a po­ten­tial source of in­sta­bil­ity in the re­gion, as well as rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion.

LIFE­STYLE

LI­NUS ESCANDOR II/AFP

Myan­mar’s State Coun­cel­lor and For­eign Min­is­ter Aung San Suu Kyi looks on dur­ing the Asean Sum­mit in Manila on Mon­day.

YON­HAP/AFP

South Korean med­i­cal doc­tor Lee Cookjong, who car­ried out surgery on the North Korean soldier, speaks to jour­nal­ists at Ajou Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal in Su­won, south of Seoul, yes­ter­day.

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