UN chief urges Suu Kyi to en­sure Ro­hingya’s safe return

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS -

MANILA Myan­mar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has come un­der grow­ing pres­sure to ad­dress the plight of her na­tion’s dis­placed Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in meet­ings here on the side­lines of Asean’s sum­mit at­tended by world lead­ers.

United Na­tions Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res yes­ter­day told the No­bel lau­re­ate “to en­sure hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess, safe, dignified, vol­un­tary and sus­tained re­turns, as well as true rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween com­mu­ni­ties”.

Ms Suu Kyi also met United States Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who discussed with her the sit­u­a­tion in Myan­mar’s Rakhine state.

A se­nior US State Depart­ment of­fi­cial told jour­nal­ists that Mr Tiller­son, who will visit Myan­mar to­day, will call on Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary to work with the civil­ian gov­ern­ment to stop the vi­o­lence and reach a “long-term peace­ful solution”.

He will “ex­press con­cerns over... the vi­o­lence and in­se­cu­rity af­fect- ing the Ro­hingya and other lo­cal pop­u­la­tions and dis­cuss ways to help (Myan­mar) end the cri­sis and chart a pro­duc­tive way for­ward”, the of­fi­cial said.

On Ms Suu Kyi’s re­solve to solve the cri­sis, the of­fi­cial said: “I can as­sure you that she does... It’s a unique power-shar­ing gov­ern­ment in Myan­mar, but she cer­tainly wields a lot of au­thor­ity and in­flu­ence, and there’s a lot she can do.”

The US has avoided out­right crit­i­cism of Ms Suu Kyi. Sup­port­ers say that she must nav­i­gate a path be­tween ou­trage abroad and pop­u­lar sen­ti­ment in a Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity coun­try.

More than 600,000 Ro­hingya have flooded into Bangladesh since late Au­gust and they now live in squalor in one of the world’s big­gest refugee camps.

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

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

Fol­low­ing its first of­fi­cial in­vesti- gation 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 in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists and aid groups.

The US State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said Mr Tiller­son will press the Myan­mar army to grant ac­cess to jour­nal­ists and aid groups for a “cred­i­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tion of abuses, and hope­fully to hold those re­spon­si­ble for the abuses ac­count­able”.

A draft of a state­ment is­sued af­ter this week’s Asean meet­ings did not men­tion the Rakhine cri­sis, be­sides as­sur­ances from in­di­vid­ual states to of­fer hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to those dis­placed.

It in­stead fo­cused on tra­di­tional con­cerns of the bloc.

Asean took a big step to­wards re­solv­ing con­tentious is­sues over the South China Sea and work­ing to­gether to deal with new threats from Is­lamist ex­trem­ists.

Asean and China on Mon­day agreed to be­gin talks on a “code of con­duct” meant to pre­vent dis­putes over con­tested wa­ters from es­ca­lat­ing into vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions.

In a news con­fer­ence to mark the end of the Asean sum­mit, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte said: “Half the time dur­ing the in­ter­ven­tions was taken up by the is­sue of ter­ror­ism.”

The Asean meet­ings were held just weeks af­ter Philip­pine troops re­cov­ered the south­ern city of Marawi from Mus­lim mil­i­tants, who held parts of it for five months.

Ex­perts have warned that set­backs ex­pe­ri­enced by Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria mil­i­tants are giv­ing rise to new threats, ei­ther from lone-wolf at­tacks or in­sur­gen­cies.

Raul Dan­cel

PHOTO: REUTERS

On the Ro­hingya is­sue, sup­port­ers of Myan­mar leader Aung San Suu Kyi say she must nav­i­gate a path be­tween ou­trage abroad and pop­u­lar sen­ti­ment in a Bud­dhist­ma­jor­ity coun­try.

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