The Irrawaddy

US ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Charge Won’t Help Govt Solve Rakhine Issue, President’s Office Says

NAYPYITAW—The US decision to label the Myanmar Army’s counter-insurgency operation in northern Rakhine as “ethnic cleansing” is “unhelpful” for Myanmar’s efforts to bring about durable peace in the state, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said.

After avoiding the term during his visit to Myanmar last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday described the Myanmar Army’s actions against Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing”.

The crisis developed after an Aug. 25 attack by Muslim militants against government security forces sparked a military clearance operation, which prompted over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee into Bangladesh amid allegations of human rights abuses.

“The situation in northern Rakhine State constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” Tillerson said in a statement.

“That statement is unhelpful for Myanmar [which is] trying to find long-term solutions. We found that the statement failed to mention the killings of Hindus and innocent civilians by ARSA, and its conclusions were reached without any proven facts,” U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy.

Washington will also pursue accountability through U.S. law, including possible targeted sanctions against those responsible for the alleged abuses, which have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh, according to the statement.

Journalist U Thiha Thway suggested that Tillerson released the statement after deciding during his visit that the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government and the Myanmar Army had different positions on the Rakhine issue.

“The United States may have confidence that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government will take action against wrongdoing in Rakhine and take responsibility. But perhaps it has decided to [release the statement] in order to find out what’s really happening on the ground,” he said.

The Myanmar government has repeatedly asked the international community to provide facts to back up allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine, but has received no meaningful facts to help with verification, he said.

“So only the United States knows what the intention of that statement was,” he said.

“The Myanmar government will try to find a durable solution in northern Rakhine State based on Dr. Kofi Annan’s recommendations,” he added.

In another international development related to the Rakhine issue, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Tuesday that he had received “very troubling” evidence that will be used to assess whether genocide has been committed against Rohingya Muslims.

Amid pressure from the international community, the Myanmar government entered into a repatriation agreement with Bangladesh on Thursday, Labor, Immigration and Population Minister U Thein Swe told The Irrawaddy.

The two countries will form joint committees within two weeks, and start the repatriation process in two months, he added.

However, Myanmar will only accept those who return voluntarily, and will take action against those who have violated laws in Myanmar, the minister said. The Myanmar government also plans to issue national verification cards (MVCs) on the spot to Rohingya Muslims at repatriation centers, he said.