MYANMAR LEADER FACES RISING PRESSURE ON ROHINGYA
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced rising global pressure on Tuesday 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 Secretary General Antonio Guterres said late Monday that the unfolding humanitarian crisis could cause regional instability and radicalization.
Guterres met with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on the sidelines of its summit in Manila.
“I cannot hide my deep concern with the dramatic movement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh,” Guterres told the Asean leaders.
Suu Kyi sat close to him but looked mostly instead at a wall screeen showing the UN leader.
“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 later, summarizing Guterres’ comments to Suu Kyi.
Meeting with Tillerson
Guterres’ 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 Myanmar’s Rakhine state, 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, formerly Burma.
At a later appearance after the meeting, Tillerson who is headed to Myanmar on Wednesday 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.
Suu Kyi assurance
The conservative Asean bloc refused to discuss the crisis in a strong, critical manner, but Philippine presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said at least two leaders raised the issue on Monday.
Roque said Suu Kyi assured other Asean leaders on Monday that her government was implementing the recommendations of a commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
He said Suu Kyi had pledged that repatriation of the displaced people would begin within three weeks after Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh. The memorandum was signed on Oct. 24.
Roque said Suu Kyi gave no further details.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Southeast Asian heads of state on Tuesday that he had asked his special envoy to engage in diplomatic efforts to find ways in which Canada can help resolve the Rohingya crisis.
Trudeau called for a “sustainable and just solution” to the crisis, stressing the importance of recommendations and the final report of the Annan commission to help chart the path toward a peaceful resolution.
More than 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 Rakhine, triggering a military crackdown that saw hundreds of villages reduced to ashes and sparked a massive exodus.
The United Nations 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.”
Following its first official investigation into the crisis, Myanmar’s military published a report this week in which it cleared itself of any abuses.
But Myanmar’s military heavily restricts access to the region by independent journalists and aid groups, and verification of events on the ground is virtually impossible.
Days earlier, the military replaced Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe, who was in charge of the operation that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi, a former democracy activist, does not have the power to stop Myanmar’s military but has defended it from international condemnation, drawing harsh criticism and damaging her image as a democracy activist and human rights campaigner.
Rights groups have lambasted her 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 had ruled the country for decades until her party came to power following 2015 elections.
REGIONAL IMPACT UNSecretary General Antonio Guterres (left) says the humanitarian crisis involving Rohingya Muslims (middle) may cause regional instability and radicalization in a meeting with Asean leaders, including Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi (right).