Tiller­son steps up crit­i­cism over Ro­hingya refugees


LON­DON | Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son has de­liv­ered the tough­est con­dem­na­tion yet from a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial of the per­se­cu­tion of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lims, liken­ing the vi­o­lence against them to “eth­nic cleans­ing” and de­mand­ing it stop.

On Thurs­day, Mr. Tiller­son di­rected the blame to­ward Myan­mar’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary, which is re­spon­si­ble for se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions that have seen nearly 400,000 peo­ple flee to neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh in the past three weeks af­ter Ro­hingya in­sur­gents launched co­or­di­nated at­tacks on gov­ern­ment forces. He re­it­er­ated sup­port for civil­ian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate who is fac­ing grow­ing pres­sure to speak out over the mil­i­tary’s con­duct.

The U.N. and refugee groups say the sit­u­a­tion is a grow­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter, while it has sparked protests through­out the Is­lamic world over the bru­tal treat­ment of a Mus­lim mi­nor­ity group.

Mr. Tiller­son said the U.S. ap­pre­ci­ated the “dif­fi­cult and com­plex sit­u­a­tion” Mrs. Suu Kyi finds her­self in, shar­ing po­lit­i­cal power with the mil­i­tary, but he also de­scribed the “hor­rors” oc­cur­ring in the South­east Asian na­tion as a “defin­ing mo­ment” for its new democ­racy.

“This vi­o­lence must stop, this per­se­cu­tion must stop. It has been char­ac­ter­ized by many as eth­nic cleans­ing. That must stop,” Mr. Tiller­son told a news con­fer­ence in Lon­don af­ter talks with Bri­tain and France. “We need to sup­port Aung San Suu Kyi and her lead­er­ship but also be very clear to the mil­i­tary that are power-shar­ing in that gov­ern­ment that this is un­ac­cept­able.”

Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son was more di­rect in crit­i­ciz­ing Mrs. Suu Kyi. He said the suf­fer­ing of the Ro­hingya peo­ple was an “abom­i­na­tion,” and that, as Myan­mar’s de facto leader, she must use her au­thor­ity to halt the vi­o­lence against them.

Mr. John­son said he ad­mired Mrs. Suu Kyi’s fight against Myan­mar’s for­mer mil­i­tary junta — she spent about 15 years un­der house ar­rest — but “it is now vi­tal for her to use that moral cap­i­tal, that moral au­thor­ity to make the point about the suf­fer­ing” of the Ro­hingya.

Bri­tain was the for­mer colo­nial ruler of the coun­try also known as Burma. It came un­der mil­i­tary rule lit­tle more than a decade af­ter in­de­pen­dence in 1948. The United States un­der Pres­i­dent Obama was in­stru­men­tal in coax­ing the gen­er­als give up di­rect rule five decades later and al­low a civil­ian gov­ern­ment. Fol­low­ing 2015 elec­tions won by her party, Mrs. Suu Kyi be­came its de facto leader.

But the tran­si­tion has been blighted by the ten­sions be­tween ma­jor­ity Bud­dhists and the Ro­hingya, who are widely loathed in Myan­mar and re­garded as il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in Myan­mar for gen­er­a­tions.

In the past few years there have been pe­ri­odic ex­plo­sions of vi­o­lence, cul­mi­nat­ing in the cur­rent crack­down by se­cu­rity forces that be­gan Aug. 25 and which top U.N. of­fi­cials have also de­scribed as eth­nic cleans­ing.

On Thurs­day, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said it had turned up ev­i­dence of an “or­ches­trated cam­paign of sys­tem­atic burn­ings” by Myan­mar se­cu­rity forces. Based on its anal­y­sis of video, satel­lite pho­tos, wit­ness ac­counts and other data, the hu­man rights group said more than 80 in­hab­ited sites, each at least 1,230 feet in length, have been torched in strife-hit Rakhine State.

“The ev­i­dence is ir­refutable — the Myan­mar se­cu­rity forces are set­ting north­ern Rakhine State ablaze in a tar­geted cam­paign to push the Ro­hingya peo­ple out of Myan­mar,” said Ti­rana Has­san, Amnesty’s cri­sis re­sponse di­rec­tor said in a state­ment.

Refugees who ar­rived Wed­nes­day in wooden boats on Bangladeshi beaches near Shah Porir Dwip fish­ing vil­lage de­scribed on­go­ing vi­o­lence in their home­land, where smoke could be seen bil­low­ing from a burning vil­lage — sug­gest­ing more Ro­hingya homes had been set alight.

While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been less ac­tive on Myan­mar than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the cur­rent wave of global con­dem­na­tion has be­gun to gal­va­nize a re­sponse in Wash­ing­ton, where Mrs. Suu Kyi has long been ad­mired for her peace­ful strug­gle for democ­racy.


Ro­hingya Mus­lims, who crossed over into Bangladesh, carry an el­derly woman to­ward a refugee camp in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, on Thurs­day. Thou­sands of Ro­hingya are flee­ing from vi­o­lence in Myan­mar and seek­ing help across the bor­der.

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