CHIANG MAI, THAILAND – The United States has urged all stakeholders and the Myanmar security forces to ensure protection and access to humanitarian assistance to all displaced populations in Rakhine State, regardless of race or religion, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy after his three-day visit to Myanmar.
From Bangkok, Thailand, Secretary Murphy held a telephonic press conference on Friday afternoon with reporters around the world before proceeding to Singapore.
His visit to Myanmar came four weeks after a crisis unfolded in northern Rakhine State. Around 420,000 self-identifying Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks, after clearance operations were carried out in the region by the Myanmar military, following Aug. 25 attacks on security outposts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Patrick Murphy told reporters, “We are really quite alarmed by the allegations of human rights abuses and we call on the Burmese security authorities to respect the rule of law and stop the violence, including that perpetrated by the local vigilantes who have taken justice into their own hands in a number of circumstances.”
He emphasized the United States’ condemnation of the August attacks and the violence, and added that the US “remains deeply troubled by the ongoing significant clashes” in northern Rakhine.
“Our appeal to the military is that while they have a legitimate need to respond to militant attacks, they equally have a need to protect civilian populations, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and to contribute to the lowering of tensions, and not discriminating when it comes to those who receive humanitarian assistance or the protection under the rule of law,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The US has announced it will offer provisions of an additional US$32 million in humanitarian assistance to urgently support those displaced, including Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh and those internally displaced in Rakhine State.
He said that the US welcomed State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to speak publicly on Tuesday about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian needs, and applauded her vision to resolve many of the immediate challenges. But implementation of long-term political solutions remains a challenge for the country, he added.
Thus, he said, the US also continues to urge security forces to work with the elected government in Naypyitaw in implementing the recommendations outlined in the the Rakhine Advisory Commission report, issued on Aug. 24, noting that he had met with the armed forces’ chief of staff Gen Mya Tun Oo.
The Deputy Assistant Secretary, accompanied by US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel, also visited to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State and met regional stakeholders, including Rakhine State cabinet members, security forces, and leaders of communities and political parties. He discussed the ongoing situation in the state on Thursday.
Murphy told The Irrawaddy that he saw that “the ability to coexist peacefully has been challenged,” noting that “there is a lot of distrust, there is a lot of animosity, there are perceptions of motives and a lot of concerns about the future. And we hear all of these competing narratives and concerns.”
He described the remaining challenges as “head-spinning in their complexity.” Rakhine, Myanmar’s second-poorest state, suffers from underdevelopment and limited infrastructure. The country’s “diverse populations in one way or another have all suffered discrimination and repression over many, many years,” Murphy acknowledged, adding that the current crisis has serious repercussions for locals, as well as regional populations, including those in Bangladesh.
After widespread allegations of military abuse, the United Kingdom withdrew its support to Myanmar military personnel this week. However, the US will not alter its military-to-military engagement as it is already “extremely limited,” Patrick Murphy said.
“Because the process of consolidating democracy [in Myanmar] is incomplete, we are not in the position to have a normal relationship with the military,” he explained, adding that the US was “not considering any expansions” of this relationship.
“We now have to see if there is any action we can take to encourage more responsible reactions to the developments in northern Rakhine State,” Murphy explained.
He also urged all affected parties to “protect the need for common respect for human dignity” and to halt the spread of hate speech and misinformation.
“I must observe that one of the newest factors adding to the complexities is the platform that social media now offers,” he told The Irrawaddy. “There are even campaigns to project misinformation. This has had implications for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This has had implications of how people perceive motives.”
“We don’t disallow that the broader political issues are complex and won’t be resolved overnight. But our message is that violence is no answer. Displacement, the destruction of the property is no answer. And in fact, it inflames problems and makes them worse; it leads people to desperation,” he said.