Tillerson Finally Brands Myanmar Crisis 'Ethnic Cleansing'

Sunday, 26 Nov, 2017

Burma and Bangladesh have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning the repatriation of more than 600,000 refugees from Rakhine State's Rohingya Muslim community who have fled the state's north en masse over recent months.

The two countries, which tussled over the terms and conditions of repatriation for several weeks, signed the instrument following two-day talks between Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the Bangladesh foreign minister.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is calling the violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state that triggered a mass relocation of Muslim Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh ethnic cleansing. The latest crisis kicked off in August, when Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar police outposts, prompting Myanmar to launch a massive so-called "clearance operation" in the region in retaliation. Almost one million Rohingya have been forced to leave their homes, many fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.

Similarly, a number of human-rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International, accused Myanmar of "apartheid". "But, they are being provided with various facilities, including shelter, food and medicine despite various limitations", Hasina said.

Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing said last week that the people who fled to Bangladesh will be taken back if locals of Rakhine state agree as they do not like "Bengalis'" presence there.

UNHCR said it had still not seen a repatriation agreement signed by the two countries on Thursday, but stressed that any returns by the "traumatized" group must be safe and voluntary.

"We estimate there are more than 190,000 women and girls [in the camps] who increasingly are encountering a lack of access to gender-based services", says Bernard Coquelin, UNFPA's humanitarian lead in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, where he was reached in a call arranged by the UN Foundation in Washington.

Rohingya refugees
Image More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myannmar since August

"I don't think that it will help to solve this problem", Russian ambassador to Myanmar Nikolay Listopadov said when asked about the United States move.

The United States on Wednesday labelled the Myanmar military operation against the Rohingya population "ethnic cleansing", and threatened targeted sanctions against those responsible for what it described as "horrendous atrocities". A few Rohingyas have "white-cards" but they expired in 2015. USA officials also worry that the mistreatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority may fuel radicalism.

"The key test of any democracy is how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as the ethnic Rohingya and other minority populations", Tillerson said.

While repeating U.S. condemnation of the insurgent attacks, he added: "No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued".

Ms. Suu Kyi's office called Thursday's agreement a "win-win situation for both countries", saying the issue should be "resolved amicably through bilateral negotiations".

Even in his later statement, condemning the actions by "some among the Burmese military" as "ethnic cleansing", Tillerson confirmed that the United States will stand by its decision to support the Myanmar government in the resolution of the crisis.

The group called on Myanmar to institute an action plan to combat discrimination, reform discriminatory laws and policies, and make sure that those responsible for crimes against humanity are held accountable.