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Suu Kyi Meets Tillerson, UN chief amid Myanmar Rohingya Crisis

Suu Kyi Meets Tillerson, UN chief amid Myanmar Rohingya Crisis

Tuesday, 14 November, 2017 - 11:30
Myanmar's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi looks on during the 9th Asean UN Summit in Manila on November 13, 2017. (AFP)

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi held talks on Tuesday with United Nations chief Antonio Guterres and United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson amid the mounting criticism against her country’s crackdown against Rohingya Muslims.

Guterres demanded that the hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya, who had sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh, should be allowed to return to their homes.

"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, summarizing comments to Suu Kyi.

Guterres' comments came hours before Suu Kyi sat down with Tillerson on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila.

Washington has been cautious in its statements on the situation in Rakhine, 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.

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.

Canada's Justin Trudeau said he had spoken to Myanmar's de facto leader.

"This is of tremendous concern to Canada and many, many other countries around the world.

"We are always looking at... how we can help, how we can move forward in a way that reduces violence, that emphasizes the rule of law and that ensures protection for all citizens," he said.

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 Myanmar's Rakhine state, triggering a military crackdown that saw hundreds of villages reduced to ashes and sparked a massive exodus.

The UN 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".

The stream of desperate refugees who escape across the riverine border bring with them stories of rape, murder and the torching of villages by soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

The Burmese government insists military action in Rakhine is a proportionate response to violence by militants. Following its first official investigation 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, and verification of events on the ground is virtually impossible.

Suu Kyi, a former democracy activist, has been lambasted by rights groups for failing to speak up for the Rohingya or condemn festering anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

Musician and campaigner Bob Geldof on Monday slammed Suu Kyi as a "murderer" and a "handmaiden to genocide", becoming the latest in a growing line of global figures to disavow the one-time darling of the human rights community.

Human rights groups poured scorn on the Myanmar military investigation into atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, branding it a “whitewash” and calling for UN and independent investigators to be allowed into the country.

Pramila Patten, the UN special representative of the secretary general on sexual violence in conflict, said she would raise accusations against the Myanmar military with the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has consistently protested its innocence, and on Monday it posted the findings of an internal investigation on the Facebook page of its commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

It said it had found no instances where its soldiers had shot and killed Rohingya villagers, raped women or tortured prisoners. It denied that security forces had torched Rohingya villages or used “excessive force”.

The military said that, while 376 “terrorists” were killed, there were no deaths of innocent people.

“The Burmese military’s absurd effort to absolve itself of mass atrocities underscores why an independent international investigation is needed to establish the facts and identify those responsible,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement.

Amnesty International also dismissed the military’s internal investigation and called for a UN fact finding mission and for other independent investigators to be given full access to Rakhine.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the military has murdered and raped Rohingya and burned their villages to the ground,” the group said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also said in foreign policy address on Monday that Myanmar’s military should be called to account.

“This is a major humanitarian crisis which looks like ethnic cleansing,” she said in a speech in London.

“And it is something for which the Burmese authorities - and especially the military - must take full responsibility.”

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