Donald Trump urges help for Myanmar's Rohingya amid violent crackdown

Rohingya refugees react as aid is distributed in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Sept 21, 2017.
Rohingya refugees react as aid is distributed in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Sept 21, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump has asked his national security advisers to find ways to help end violence that has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

"The President is very concerned about Burma," Ms Haley told reporters in New York on Thursday (Sept 21), using Myanmar's former name. "Everybody is trying to figure out who can move the officials in Burma. You have almost half a million people who have left, and the tragedies and the abuse that's happened there is something not a lot of us can stomach."

More than 400,000 Rohingya from the Buddhist-majority nation have fled over the border to Bangladesh since Aug 25, when militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police and army posts, killing a dozen security officials in Myanmar's eastern state of Rakhine.

The military responded to those assaults with what it called "clearance operations". Human-rights groups have accused security forces and Buddhist vigilantes of indiscriminately attacking Muslims and burning their villages, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the violence as "ethnic cleansing".

Some groups have criticised the Trump administration for not speaking out forcefully against the violence.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has contacted Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's leader, to express the President's concern, Ms Haley said. She said Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has urged the country's military leaders to end the violence.

On Wednesday, Vice-President Mike Pence urged members of the UN Security Council to take "strong and swift" action.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who endured years of house arrest by a military junta during her campaign to bring civilian rule to Myanmar, has come under fire for not speaking out against the violence. She has described some Rohingya, who are considered stateless in Myanmar, as militants.

Still, Ms Suu Kyi, who skipped the gathering of world leaders in New York for the UN General Assembly, said in a televised address this week that "we condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence" and that her government was ready to welcome back Rohingya refugees.