UK Foreign Secretary Hunt Gets Rare Cold Shoulder From Commander-in-Chief

By Moe Myint 21 September 2018

YANGON — Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has received a number of foreign diplomats, UN officials and high-profile international figures over the crisis in northern Rakhine State. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has just become the exception.

Hunt had asked to meet with the general in Naypyitaw but was declined. Yet the commander-in-chief has received nearly a dozen Western diplomats and UN officials since the start of 2017; some were even given helicopter tours of the country’s conflict zones.

When a 15-member delegation from the UN Security Council visited Myanmar in April, Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing brought nearly a dozen military generals together to meet them. At least one top general from the Defense or Home Affairs ministry meets the visiting diplomats when the commander-in-chief is busy or away.

Hunt, who replaced Boris Johnson as the UK’s top diplomat in July, was on his first visit to Myanmar in the role. Before arriving, he even announced his trip on Twitter during a meeting with Rohingya activists in the UK.

The foreign secretary landed in Myanmar on Wednesday and headed by helicopter to northern Rakhine State, where a late-2017 military crackdown that followed militant attacks on local security forces has driven some 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. There he met with local authorities, displaced Hindus, ethnic Rakhine, and Rohingya villagers in areas spared the arson that engulfed much of the region at the time.

A United Nations Facts Finding Mission (FFM) recently recommended that some of Myanmar’s top military generals be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for ethnic cleansing and genocidal intent against the Rohingya.

Immediately after meeting with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw on Thursday, Hunt posted a tweet urging the international community to consider all options to bring the country’s military leaders before the ICC if they were not held to account in Myanmar. The government has rejected the FFM report as “one-sided.”

“We need to be absolutely clear that there can be no hiding place for anyone responsible for these kinds of atrocities,” Hunt said on Twitter.

The State Counselor’s Office announced on Thursday evening that Hunt and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had discussed recent developments in Rakhine State including repatriation arrangements and debate on the violence at recent UN meetings.

U Maung Maung Soe, an expert on Myanmar’s ethnic affairs, said Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s failure to meet with the UK foreign secretary was likely a reaction to the latter’s tweet. He said Hunt appeared to come with orders for Naypyitaw rather than for a genuine diplomatic exchange, and predicted that Myanmar’s relations with some European countries could deteriorate further if they continue to demand accountability of the military.

“How can the army meet with a person who supports the ICC prosecutor? I would say this is very simple,” said U Maung Maung Soe.

A UN Security Council referral to the ICC requires that there be no vetoes from permanent members Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France. Some local experts predict that Russia and China, which has a long history of military relations with Myanmar and numerous development projects underway in the country, would block any attempt.