US Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday told Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi that the treatment of her country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim population was inexcusable.
“This is a tragedy that has touched the hearts of millions of Americans. The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes which resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh is without excuse,” Pence told Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Singapore.
“I’m anxious to hear about the progress you’re making in holding those accountable who are responsible,” he was quoted as saying by CNN. Pence comments came as officials in Myanmar and Bangladesh get ready to repatriate more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.
The Myanmar military has been accused of using rape, murder and arson in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing that drove hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they languish in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp.
The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied that its soldiers deliberately attacked unarmed Rohingyas. Pence also expressed concern over the arrest and imprisonment of two Reuters reporters who were investigating an alleged massacre at a Rohingya village by the Army.
The pair — Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo — was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty in September of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act. “The arrest and jailing of two journalists last fall was deeply troubling to millions of Americans and I look forward to speaking to you about the premium that we place on a free and independent press,” the US leader said.
Suu Kyi responded by saying she understood the situation better than her country’s critics. “We are in a better position to explain to you what is happening,” she said. Suu Kyi has come under fierce criticism for her handling of the crisis in Rakhine and for failing to safeguard human rights in Myanmar.
A UN report released in September said that the military campaign against the Rohingyas in Rakhine had elements of genocide. The Rohingya crisis and the trade war between the US and China are in focus at the annual summit of leaders of the countries that form the Asean, being held in Singapore this week.
Asean member countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The US, China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and Chile are also participating in this year’s summit.