Myanmar sanctions will not solve crisis, says Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at a joint press conference after their meeting in Naypyitaw yesterday. Mr Tillerson said: "We want to see Myanmar succeed. You can't just impose sanctions and say, the
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at a joint press conference after their meeting in Naypyitaw yesterday. Mr Tillerson said: "We want to see Myanmar succeed. You can't just impose sanctions and say, therefore, the crisis is over."PHOTO: EPA-EFE

US State Secretary urges independent probe into allegations of ethnic cleansing

NAYPYITAW • Washington's top diplomat said he would not yet push for sanctions against Myanmar over the Rohingya refugee crisis, but he called for an independent investigation into "credible" allegations that soldiers were committing atrocities against the Muslim minority.

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was speaking yesterday after a one-day stop in Naypyitaw, as global outrage builds over impunity for a military accused of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.

His comments came as de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi hit back at accusations that she has been silent over the crisis, saying she has focused instead on speech that avoids inflaming sectarian tensions.

Over 600,000 Rohingya have fled the mainly Buddhist country since the military launched a counter-insurgency operation in northern Rakhine state in late August.

While Myanmar's military insists it has targeted only Rohingya rebels, refugees massing in grim Bangladeshi camps have described chilling and consistent accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson at the hands of security forces and Buddhist mobs.

Speaking after meetings with the army chief and Ms Suu Kyi, Mr Tillerson said that broad economic sanctions are not something that "would be advisable at this time".

"We want to see Myanmar succeed," he told reporters at a joint press briefing alongside Ms Suu Kyi. "You can't just impose sanctions and say, therefore, the crisis is over."

DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS

I have not been silent... What people mean is what I say is not interesting enough. What I say is not meant to be exciting, it is meant to be accurate... not set people against each other.

MS AUNG SAN SUU KYI, on accusations that she has been silent over the Rohingya refugee crisis.

But he said that Washington was "deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar's security forces and vigilantes" and urged Myanmar to accept an independent investigation into those allegations.

"The scenes of what occurred out there are just horrific," he added.

Ms Suu Kyi's administration has dismissed the reports and refused to grant entry to United Nations investigators.

But Washington has been careful to draw a distinction between Ms Suu Kyi's two-year-old civilian administration and the military.

While she lacks power over the army, Ms Suu Kyi has become a punching bag for rights groups disappointed by her failure to publicly criticise the military or defend the Rohingya against rising Islamophobia. Ms Suu Kyi, who rarely holds press conferences, addressed those criticisms yesterday.

"I have not been silent...What people mean is what I say is not interesting enough," she told reporters.

"What I say is not meant to be exciting, it is meant to be accurate... not set people against each other."

The US was a major ally in the democratic transition that eventually led to Ms Suu Kyi taking office last year in a power-sharing arrangement with the army, ending five decades of brutal junta rule.

Under a junta-drafted Constitution, the military still controls key security ministries, including border and defence, and retains a de facto veto on any constitutional change.

Ms Suu Kyi's defenders say she must tread lightly to avoid provoking an army that could roll back democratic gains at any time.

As anger over the plight of the Rohingya mounts abroad, Myanmar's army has dug in with its denial of abuses - while also curbing access to the conflict zone.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2017, with the headline 'Myanmar sanctions will not solve crisis, says Tillerson'. Print Edition | Subscribe