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UN chief warns of Myanmar crisis at ASEAN event

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila, the Philippines, on November 13, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The United Nations (UN)’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stressed the urgency of attempts needed to end the appalling plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

“The dramatic movement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh is a worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy and a potential source of instability in the region, and radicalization,” Guterres said late Monday addressing leaders at a meeting on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual summit in the Philippines’ capital of Manila.

Among those leaders was Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

The ASEAN event has reportedly refused to discuss the tragedy in Myanmar in a serious manner even though at least two leaders have reportedly raised the issue at the event.

Earlier reports said that a draft of the statement to be issued at the conclusion of the ASEAN summit fails to mention the mass flight of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where they face government-sanctioned violence at the hands of military soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks on during the 9th ASEAN summit in Manila, the Philippines, on November 13, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

One paragraph of the communiqué — drawn up by the Philippines, the current chair of the 10-member bloc that includes Myanmar — mentions the importance of humanitarian relief provided for victims of natural disasters in Vietnam and a recent urban battle with militants in the Philippines, as well as “affected communities” in northern Rakhine State.

Moreover, the draft fails to offer any details regarding conditions in northern Rakhine or use the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority. Suu Kyi has reportedly asked foreign leaders to avoid that word. The mostly-Buddhist government in Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and refuses to recognize them as citizens despite the community’s historical presence in the country.

Some members of ASEAN, particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced concern. However, in keeping with ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another, the issue seems to have been put aside at the summit.

In September, however, Malaysia disavowed a statement issued by the Philippines on behalf of ASEAN’s foreign ministers as misrepresenting “the reality” since it did not identify the Rohingya as an affected community in Rakhine.

Tillerson expected in Myanmar 

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to travel to Myanmar on Wednesday to meet Suu Kyi, as well as army chief General Min Aung Hlaing.

He is reportedly expected to adopt a firm tone with military leaders there, whom he has deemed “responsible” for the crisis facing the Rohingya.

“The world can’t just stand by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in that area,” Tillerson said last month.

But it was unclear how Washington planned to back up its words with action. So far, the State Department has merely strengthened a few punitive measures aimed at Myanmar’s army.

Amnesty International mocks Myanmar military probe

Separately, human rights group Amnesty International has scoffed at a Myanmar military probe into the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, describing it as a “whitewash” and calling for the UN and independent investigators to be allowed into the country.

“Once again, Myanmar’s military is trying to sweep serious violations against the Rohingya under the carpet,” Amnesty’s regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez, declared in a statement released late Monday.

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

Accusations of organized mass rape and other crimes against humanity were also leveled at the Myanmar military on Sunday by yet another senior UN official, who had toured camps in Bangladesh, where Rohingya refugees have taken shelter.

A file photo of stranded Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing massive persecution in Myanmar, seen near the Bangladeshi border. (By AFP)

Myanmar’s military has consistently protested its innocence, and on Monday it posted the findings of an internal probe 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, or raped women and tortured prisoners. It denied that security forces had torched Rohingya villages or used “excessive force.”

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since late last year. That exodus sharply rose after August 25, when a crackdown on the Rohingya intensified in Rakhine.

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