U.N. chief ’s speech raises alarm over Myan­mar cri­sis

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Jim Gomez Jim Gomez is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

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.

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