Tillerson urges Burma to probe atrocities, repatriate Rohingya

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Burma’s military and civilian leaders to allow an independent investigation of credible reports of mass atrocities against Rohingya refugees by the country’s security forces and vigilantes.

At a news conference with the civilian head of government, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Tillerson reaffirmed strong U.S. support for the transition to democracy in Burma. The secretary of state also met with the senior military commander during his visit to Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

More than 600,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have fled Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh since the Burmese military cracked down in August after Rohingya militants attacked police posts. Hundreds of villages were burned, and refugees — mostly women and children — left the country.

“The crisis in Rakhine state is one of the greatest challenges Myanmar has faced since the elected government came into office last year.  We’re deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities,” Tillerson said.

“The humanitarian scandal of this crisis is staggering,” he said. He announced the United States would provide an additional $47 million in assistance, bringing the total to $87 million since the exodus began.

Refugees walking alongside water carrying large bundles of belongings (© AP Images)
Newly arrived Rohingya refugees walk to a camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, in late September after Burmese security forces drove them from their homes in Burma’s Rakhine state. (© AP Images)

“Myanmar’s response to this crisis is critical to determining the success of its transition to a more democratic society,” said Tillerson. The government and security forces must protect everyone within its borders and “hold accountable those who fail to do so.”

The United States welcomes the Burmese government’s commitment to allow refugees to voluntarily return and to create lasting peace in Rakhine state, including supporting economic development and providing a path to citizenship, Tillerson said.

Although Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations, the government considers them illegal immigrants.

Tillerson said reports of atrocities against the Rohingya “demand a credible and impartial investigation, and those who commit human rights abuses or violations must be held accountable.” He also deplored the Rohingya militants’ attacks on security forces.

At their joint news conference in the capital city, Naypyidaw, Suu Kyi said, “We agree that it is most important that we should bring peace and stability to this country, and that can only be done on the basis of rule of law.”

“I hope you recognize the existing challenges are very great indeed and multifaceted. It’s not a one-dimensional Rakhine problem,” said Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was kept under house arrest during years of military rule.

Tillerson said he came to Burma to listen and now has “a much greater appreciation for the complexities of the crisis that Myanmar is dealing with.”