Rohingya children at the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh


US SECRETARY of state Rex Tillerson will stress the need to halt violence and stabilise Rakhine state when he meets the head of Myanmar’s mili­tary on Wednesday (14) in a bid to ease the Roh­ingya refugee crisis, a senior State Department official said.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a coun­ter-insurgency clearance operation of Myanmar forces in Rakhine. A top UN official has called the operation a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing”.

Tillerson met Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose less-than-two-year-old civilian administra­tion shares power with the military and has no con­trol over its generals, at an East Asia summit in Ma­nila on Tuesday (14). He will meet her again in the Myanmar capital of Naypyitaw on Wednesday, and hold separate talks with the head of the armed forc­es, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Asked what approach Tillerson would take with Myanmar’s army chief, the State Department official told journalists that the emphasis would be on re­storing peace in Rakhine.

“We are focusing on trying to stabilize areas in northern Rakhine so that people can return there, stopping the violence, making sure that the military would protect all populations in that area equally and that they conduct a credible investigation that leads to accountability for people who have perpe­trated abuses,” said the official, who was with Tiller­son in Manila and declined to be identified.

The official said the consequences for the coun­try, also known as Burma, if it failed to respond to the crisis with accountability could be part of the conversation with the military leader.

“Burma made a lot of progress and we would not want to see that reversed,” the official added.

US senators in Washington are pressing for eco­nomic sanctions and travel restrictions targeting the Myanmar military and its business interests.

“The secretary will reiterate support for Burma’s democratic transition and urge the Burmese government to protect the local population and allow hu­manitarian and media access, (and) support for a credible investigation of abuses,” the official added.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has con­sistently protested its innocence. On Monday it posted the findings of an internal investigation on the Facebook page of 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 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 government in mostly Buddhist Myanmar regards the Muslim Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The US official said Suu Kyi had been forthcom­ing in her talks with Tillerson and others during the past few days about the steps that needed to be tak­en to improve the situation, including plans for the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya. (Reuters)