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Thursday 18 October 2018

US calls for investigation into Burma's humanitarian crisis

Rex Tillerson and Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands (Aung Shine Oo/AP/PA)
Rex Tillerson and Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands (Aung Shine Oo/AP/PA)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said his country is deeply concerned by "credible reports" of atrocities committed by Burma's security forces.

Mr Tillerson called for an independent investigation into a humanitarian crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya flee to Bangladesh.

Speaking at a joint news conference with leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma's capital, Mr Tillerson said the US would consider individual sanctions against people found responsible for the violence but he would not advise "broad-based economic sanctions" against the entire country.

"All of that has to be evidence-based," Mr Tillerson said.

"If we have credible information that we believe to be very reliable that certain individuals were responsible for certain acts that we find unacceptable, then targeted sanctions on individuals very well may be appropriate."

His one-day visit comes as a new report said there was "mounting evidence" of genocide against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state, where a government security operation has caused more than 600,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Mr Tillerson also met with Burma's powerful military chief Min Aung Hlaing, who is in charge of operations in Rakhine.

A senior US State Department official said Mr Tillerson would use the visit to "express concerns over the displacement and violence and insecurity affecting Rohingya populations and other local populations, and discuss ways to help Burma stakeholders implement commitments aimed at ending the crisis and charting productive ways forward".

Though Ms Suu Kyi has been the de facto head of Burma's civilian government since her party won elections in 2015, she is limited in her control of the country by a constitution written by the military junta that ruled for decades.

The military is in charge of the operations in northern Rakhine and ending them is not up to Ms Suu Kyi.

Ms Suu Kyi has faced widespread criticism for not speaking out in defence of the Rohingya.

At Wednesday's news conference, she denied she had been silent on the issue, saying she had personally commented on the situation as well as issued statements through her office.

"I haven't been silent," she said. "What people mean is what I say is not interesting enough.

"But what I say is not meant to be exciting. It's meant to be accurate. And it's aimed at creating more harmony and a better future for everybody. Not setting people against each other."

The report by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the advocacy group Fortify Rights found there is "mounting evidence" of genocide against the Rohinyga.

It accused security forces and civilians of mass killings - including burning victims alive including infants - rape and other abuses, and called on the international community to take action.

Burma's military has denied the accusations, most recently with a statement on Monday.

The military said it had interviewed thousands of people during a month-long investigation into the conduct of troops in Rakhine after Rohingya insurgents launched a series of deadly attacks there on August 25.

While the report acknowledged battles against militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army had left 376 "terrorists" dead, it also claimed security forces had "never shot at the innocent Bengalis" and "there was no death of innocent people".

AP

Press Association

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