U.N. chief ’s speech raises alarm over Myanmar crisis
MANILA — The U.N. chief expressed alarm over the plight of Rohingya Muslims in remarks before Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders from a Southeast Asian bloc that has refused to criticize her government over the crisis.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said late Monday that the unfolding humanitarian crisis can cause regional instability and radicalization. He met with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations 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 at a wall screen showing the U.N. leader.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since late August, when the military launched what they called “clearance operations” in response to insurgent attacks. The refugees say soldiers and Buddhist mobs attacked them and burned their villages to force them to flee.
In its most forceful denial so far, however, Myanmar’s military issued a statement late Monday saying security forces did not commit atrocities during “clearance operations.” It cited an internal investigation that it said had absolved it of any wrongdoing in a crisis that has triggered Asia’s largest refugee exodus in decades.
The report contradicts consistent statements from Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh — some with gunshot wounds and severe burns — who have described massacres, rapes, looting and the burning of hundreds of villages by Myanmar’s army and civilian mobs.
Suu Kyi 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.
Gutteres said at the United Nations in September that the attacks against the Rohingya appeared to be “ethnic cleansing.” He said Friday that it was “an absolutely essential priority” to stop all violence against Rohingya Muslims, allow them to return to their homes and grant them legal status.