US ramps up pressure on Myanmar, why not Asean?: The Nation

Rohingya refugees rest after crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar at Kutupalong refugee camp in the Bangladeshi district of Ukhia. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Oct 25, the paper urges the regional grouping to do its part to increase pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to address the Rohingya refugee issue.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Trump administration this week threatened to take punitive action against Myanmar unless there's a swift end to the military onslaught that has driven more than half a million Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh.

The US State Department, in a statement addressing "our gravest concern", is considering economic measures to punish Myanmar, which it still refers to by its former name Burma. It has already barred Myanmar's military leaders from American soil. And, in line with federal regulations, Burmese military units involved in operations against the Rohingya have become ineligible for US aid.

"The government of Burma, including its armed forces, must take immediate action to ensure peace and security, implement commitments to ensure humanitarian access to communities in desperate need, facilitate the safe and voluntary return of those who have fled or been displaced in Rakhine state, and address the root causes of systematic discrimination against the Rohingya," Monday's statement said.

"It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable."

Meanwhile in Geneva, representatives of the international community are struggling to come up with funding for aid groups working in Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries, with limited resources for its own people, let alone the tide of refugees pouring across the Myanmar frontier.

Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, called the situation in and around the refugee camps in the borderlands a "time bomb ticking towards a full-blown health crisis". She said there were only 210 proper hospital beds to be shared among the nearly one million Rohingya refugees.

Yet many arrive at the makeshift camps with gunshot and knife wounds and most are starving or malnourished. They arrive in shock and fear, bearing tales of loved ones being raped and murdered. One United Nations report called the campaign against the Rohingya in Myanmar a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

It is clear that Aung San Suu Kyi's government in Myanmar is heedless of the condemnation and unwilling to do more than pay lip service to pleas to stem the refugee influx into besieged Bangladesh.

Equally pathetic has been the attitude adopted by some members of Asean, including Thailand, which in another time was on the receiving end of trouble caused by Burmese brutality against ethnic minorities, absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees into border camps.

It is disturbing that the Thai generals who now rule the country complained bitterly in those days about their Burmese counterparts driving out the hapless monitories, yet they have nothing to say about today's crisis in western Myanmar.

Our own generals surely remember how rape became a weapon of war against Shan, Mon and Karen women, a despicable attempt to show the ethnic militants they could not protect their mothers and sisters. Now the same tactic is being used against the Rohingya, and yet from Thailand comes only silence. Myanmar military leaders are in fact welcome here anytime they wish to visit.

US senators Todd Young and Jeff Merkley have sent a bipartisan letter to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, urging her and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to visit Myanmar personally and drive home American concerns.

If that mission fails to sway the Myanmar government, the senators said, Washington must lead a campaign to halt all international military weapons transfers to Myanmar.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.

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