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U.S. Ambassador To UN Raises Rohingya Issue With Myanmar Security Advisor

NEW YORK, Oct 14 (Bernama) — Amid the growing concern being voiced worldwide over the Rohingya refugee crisis, with their more than half a million refugees having fled from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley, held discussions on Thursday with U Thaung Tun, National Security Advisor of Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis.

Haley stressed the need for all sides to end violence immediately. This was, apparently, aimed at both the Myanmar security forces and also the Rohingyas militants who, according to international sources, unleashed the crisis by launching an attack on Myanmar’s security forces.

According to a statement issued by Hailey’s office, the U.S. permanent representative appealed to Myanmar to facilitate ‘the safe, dignified return of all those displaced as quickly as possible and called for humanitarian access to all affected by the violence’.

She also urged Myanmar to hold security officials and others found responsible for offenses against all affected communities accountable for their actions.

U Thaung, who has been in New York for some time, has been holding talks with UN officials and U.S. diplomats, trying to ?explain? the genesis of the crisis and Myanmar’s efforts to try to defuse it.

But his efforts have not been convincing, as far as the U.N. and other NGOs and, particularly, human rights groups are concerned; indeed, human rights groups have documented that an ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority was underway.

U Thaung has been telling American interlocutors that the Rohingya refugees who have fled the country may not want to return to their homes anyway, adding that “we can’t take just everybody – they must want to come back.”

He has been avoiding facing the U.S. media which has been trying hard to interview him.

Meanwhile, UN sources told Bernama that UN relief agencies are working overtime to grapple with the refugee outflow into Bangladesh which faces a humanitarian emergency with hundreds of thousands of refugees now depending on humanitarian assistance for shelter, food, water and other life-saving needs, says the United Nations migration agency.

“The seriousness of the situation cannot be over-emphasized,” said the chief of mission (Bangladesh) at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Sarat Dash, in a statement.

While aid agencies said an estimated 536,000 people have fled Myanmar and arrived in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh over the past 47 days, the arrival numbers have spiked again with an additional 15,000 crossing into Bangladesh between October 9 to 11.

“These people are malnourished and there is insufficient access to clean water and sanitation in many of the spontaneous sites. They are highly vulnerable. They have fled conflict, experienced severe trauma and are now living in extremely difficult conditions,” Dash said.

Besides urgently needing additional funds, many experts are worried over the outbreak of diseases.

“The risk of an outbreak of communicable disease is very high given the crowded living conditions and the lack of adequate clean water and sanitation,” said IOM Senior Regional Health Officer Patrick Duigan, pointing out that maternal, newborn and child health care are also in desperately short supply.

Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York after a closed-door meeting with the Security Council, which included non-Council members from Myanmar and Bangladesh, as well as representatives of civil society, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who now chairs the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state, said he had held ‘good discussion’ focusing mainly on the report produced by the Commission which was welcomed by the UN in August.

“It was clear that everyone agrees on what needs to be done in the short-term: stopping the violence; getting humanitarian aid to those in need, and helping with the dignified and voluntary return for those [refugees] in Bangladesh,” he explained.

This particular point ‘is not going to be easy,’ he continued, stressing that the refugees would only go back if they had a sense of security and confidence that their lives would be better.

Annan recalled that his report had stated that the refugees not be put in camps and that they must be allowed to go back to their villages and helped to rebuild and reconstruct their lives.

He went on to say that key question of citizenship and verification was ‘a real problem for the Muslim community.’

Annan pointed out that State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had accepted the recommendations in his report and had agreed to set up an implementation committee.

Source : http://www.bernama.com

UK PM: Myanmar must stop violence

Theresa May says the Rohingya exodus is a major humanitarian crisis

The international community has delivered a clear message to Myanmar that it must stop the violence, British Prime Minister Theresa May has said during a Q&A session in Parliament.

She was replying to Will Quince, the Conservative MP for Colchester, on Wednesday. Quince, who recently visited Bangladesh, asked May what pressure the UK could put on Myanmar to end the persecution, so that the Rohingya can go back home.

Prime Minister May said the UK remained “deeply concerned” by what was happening to the Rohingya.

“We now know that there are over 500,000 refugees in Bangladesh,” she said. “It’s a major humanitarian crisis.”


Also Read- UN: Army in systematic bid to drive Rohingya from Myanmar


Myanmar said it launched a “security operation” after insurgents attacked police posts and an army base on August 25. However, a UN investigation found that the military operations had begun earlier, possibly in early August.

The crackdown targeting the Rohingya forced more than half a million members of the mainly-Muslim minority to flee to Bangladesh since August 25.

May said: “We have raised this [Rohingya issue] three times at the UN Security Council. There’s been a clear message delivered from the international community that the Burmese (Myanmar) authorities must stop the violence, allow safe return of refugees and allow full humanitarian access.”

The Rohingya are the largest stateless community and often described as the most persecuted minority in the world. Naypyitaw denies them citizenship and claims they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

But the latest chapter in violence is unprecedented, which the UN described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and said the military campaign aimed at permanently driving away the Rohingya from Rakhine state.

British Prime Minister May said her country had suspended “any practical defence engagement that we had with Burma because of our concerns”.

In the last UN General Assembly, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina proposed creating a “safe zone” in Myanmar for the Rohingya under UN supervision.


Also Read- Bangladesh PM: If necessary, we will eat one meal a day to feed the Rohingya


Will Quince told parliament that what he had seen during his visit to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh “was truly harrowing”. “It can only be described as a humanitarian disaster,” he said.

Bangladesh already had been hosting an estimated 400,000 Rohingya before the latest influx. Hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced persons are believed to be waiting along the Myanmar border, waiting for a chance to sneak into Bangladesh.

May said the UK had been providing support through its international development and aid. “We provided money to the Red Cross in Burma and have been providing bilateral donations to deal with the refugees, to support the refugees who have crossed into Bangladesh,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina has said that her government would continue to provide support to the Rohingya until they returned to their homeland.

If necessary, we will eat one meal a day and share another meal with these distressed people,” she said. “After all, we are human beings and we stand for mankind.”

Source : http://www.dhakatribune.com

Statement by Sweden at the UN Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on Myanmar

National Statement delivered by Ambassador Carl Skau on behalf of Sweden at the United Nations Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on Myanmar, 13 October 2017, New York.

Mr Chair,

Let me join Francois and Matthew in welcoming you, Mr. Kofi Annan, and in thanking you for your extremely insightful and timely briefing today. We commend your leadership of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, and we fully support the recommendations in the Commission’s report.

Fifty days have now passed since the first reports of wide-scale violence in Rakhine began to emerge. Since then a crisis of immense proportions has unfolded –in Rakhine, and across the Naf River in Bangladesh, where more than half a million Rohingya men, women and children have fled. There are clear implications for regional peace and stability. The crisis continues – 14 000 people have crossed the border in recent days. Inside Rakhine, we know little about the conditions for those that remain.

An urgent and swift response is now needed. The Secretary-General laid out a clear way forward to the Council on 28 September.

First, there must be an immediate and independently verified end to all violence. We note the government’s statement that violence has ended; however, reports of systematic human rights violations continue. There is an urgent need to establish the facts and circumstances on the ground. The Human Rights Council Independent Fact Finding Mission should be provided access without delay.

Secondly, we welcome the State Counsellor’s commitment to enhance the ability to provide humanitarian assistance effectively in Rakhine. This commitment should now be implemented without delay. The potential for an even worse humanitarian catastrophe exists. The UN and its partners need full and unhindered humanitarian access.

Thirdly, conditions must now urgently be put in place to ensure that all those who have fled, can return to their places of origin, in a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable manner. We welcome the statement from the State Counsellor yesterday regarding the return of refugees as well as the ongoing dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh on this issue. The United Nations must now be invited to assist this process, in line with international standards.

For voluntary return to take place, refugees need dignified conditions to return to, where they can begin to rebuild their lives, free from fear and with confidence in the future. This requires real change on the ground. We need a ‘new deal’ in Rakhine, to ensure an end to discrimination, respect for human rights and to provide for social inclusion.

The Rakhine Commission Report provides the framework for such a ‘new deal’. Implementation of its recommendations is urgent. The government has stated its commitment to implement them. The Security Council, regional actors and the broader international community have all voiced their support. This consensus provides a unique opportunity for Myanmar and its international partners to work together towards a lasting solution to the situation in Rakhine State.

Close cooperation and partnership with the United Nations is essential. The UN and its partners have the capacity to support both humanitarian and longer term development efforts. Constructive engagement with the UN can also allow the government to build much-needed trust with the broader international community, as Myanmar continues its democratic transition. The United Nations stands ready to support, however, narratives and rhetoric that seek to undermine its ability to do its work need to be countered.

Regional actors also have a critical role to play. We thank Bangladesh for its generosity to those fleeing the violence. We welcome the constructive role being played by Indonesia, and encourage them to continue to engage actively on this issue. We also appreciate the important role being played by ASEAN, and stand ready to support their efforts.

Mr Chair,

The scale of the crisis is immense. At the same time, an opportunity now exists for an historic shift that would put Myanmar firmly on the path to peace and stability. This is a critical moment. The history books will record the decisions that are made in the coming days and weeks. How those who have fled can return; the conditions waiting for them when they do; and the steps taken to build trust and a peaceful future for all communities in Rakhine.

The international community stands ready to support. We urge the Government to take this opportunity to engage with us.

Thank you

Source : http://www.government.se/statements

Myanmar army opens probe amid reports of killings, abuse of Rohingya Muslims

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military has launched an internal probe into the conduct of soldiers during a counteroffensive that has sent more than half a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, many saying they witnessed killings, rape and arson by troops.

Coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on 30 security posts on Aug. 25 sparked a ferocious military response in the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine state that the United Nations has said was ethnic cleansing.

A committee led by military Lieutenant-General Aye Win has begun an investigation into the behavior of military personnel, the office of the commander in chief said on Friday, insisting the operation was justified under Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s constitution.

According to a statement posted on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page, the panel will ask, “Did they follow the military code of conduct? Did they exactly follow the command during the operation? After that (the committee) will release full information.”

Myanmar is refusing entry to a U.N. panel that was tasked with investigating allegations of abuses after a smaller military counteroffensive launched in October 2016.

But domestic investigations, including a previous internal military probe, have largely dismissed refugees’ claims of abuses committed during security forces’ “clearance operations”.

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrived cross the Naf river separating Myanmar’s Rakhine state and Bangladesh in recent days, even though Myanmar insists military operations ceased on Sept. 5.

Aid agencies estimate that 536,000 people have arrived in the Cox’s Bazar district, straining scarce resources of aid groups and local communities.

About 200,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has pledged accountability for human rights abuses and says Myanmar will accept back refugees who can prove they were residents of Myanmar.

The powerful army chief has taken a harder stance, however, telling the U.S. ambassador in Myanmar this week that the exodus of Rohingya, who he said were non-native “Bengalis,” was exaggerated.

In comments to Japan’s ambassador carried in state media on Friday, Min Aung Hlaing denied ethnic cleansing was taking place on the grounds that photos showed Muslims “departing calmly rather than fleeing in terror”.

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who led a commission set up by Suu Kyi to find solutions for the ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine, briefed the U.N. Security Council and other key states in an informal closed-door meeting on Friday.

Some council members are exploring if the 15-member body could agree a formal statement or even a resolution to call for an end to the violence, for full aid access, the safe return of refugees, access for a U.N. fact-finding mission to ensure accountability and implementation of Annan’s recommendations.

Annan said he hoped any possible Security Council resolution “urges the government to really press ahead and create conditions that will allow the refugees to return in dignity and with a sense of security, they should not be returned to camps.”

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; Editing by Nick Macfie and James Dalgleish

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Source : https://www.reuters.com

Brutal attacks on Rohingya meant to make their return almost impossible – UN human rights report

GENEVA (11 October 2017) – Brutal attacks against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State have been well-organised, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their homes, a new UN report based on interviews conducted in Bangladesh has found.

The report by a team from the UN Human Rights Office, who met with the newly arrived Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar from 14 to 24 September 2017, states that human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population were carried out by Myanmar security forces often in concert with armed Rakhine Buddhist individuals. The report, released on Wednesday, is based on some 65 interviews with individuals and groups.

It also highlights a strategy to “instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological” among the Rohingya population.

More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since the Myanmar security forces launched an operation in response to alleged attacks by militants on 25 August against 30 police posts and a regimental headquarters. The report states the “clearance operations” started before 25 August 2017, and as early as the beginning of August.

The UN Human Rights Office is gravely concerned for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who remain in northern Rakhine State amid reports the violence is still ongoing, and calls on authorities to immediately allow humanitarian and human rights actors unfettered access to the stricken areas.

The report cites testimony from witnesses that security forces scorched dwellings and entire villages, were responsible for extrajudicial and summary executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and attacks on places of worship. Eyewitnesses reported numerous killings, saying some victims were deliberately targeted and others were killed through explosions, fire and stray bullets.

A 12-year old girl from Rathedaung township described how “the [Myanmar security forces and Rakhine Buddhist individuals] surrounded our house and started to shoot. It was a situation of panic – they shot my sister in front of me, she was only seven years old. She cried and told me to run. I tried to protect her and care for her, but we had no medical assistance on the hillside and she was bleeding so much that after one day she died. I buried her myself.

The report states that in some cases, before and during the attacks, megaphones were used to announce: “You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.

Credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, targeting their houses, fields, food-stocks, crops, livestock and even trees, to render the possibility of the Rohingya returning to normal lives and livelihoods in the future in northern Rakhine almost impossible.

UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who has described the Government operations in northern Rakhine State as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” has also urged the Government to immediately end its “cruel” security operation. By denying the Rohingya population their political, civil, economic and cultural rights, including the right to citizenship, he said, the Government’s actions appear to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.”

The report indicates that efforts were taken to effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.

Information received also indicates that the Myanmar security forces targeted teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence of the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.

Source : http://www.ohchr.org/EN

Muhith urges UN for Rohingya safe zone

Finance Minister AMA Muhith has met United Nations’ Secretary General Antonio Guteress and pressed for a safe zone for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

He also urged for a quick and permanent solution to the prevailing Rohingya crisis, said a press release of Bangladesh’s permanent mission to the United Nations.

UN chief Guteress lauded Bangladesh’s effort in sheltering the refugees and thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government for the humanitarian effort.

He assured the highest of cooperation from the UN in regard to the Rohingya crisis and said the UN is doing all that is necessary towards a solution to the problem.

Up until now, about 520,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh facing persecution in Myanmar. UN fears of further exodus in face of more violence in Rakhine.

Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the UN, Masud Bin Momen, UNDP administrator Achim Stainer, and UN Under Secretary General Fekitamoeloa Katoa were among those present in the meeting held at UN headquarters in New York.

Source : http://www.thedailystar.net

Foreign minister: Myanmar’s proposal might be a trick

‘The Rohingya crisis is no longer an internal issue in Myanmar. It is a regional crisis now.’

When Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali was speaking at a discussion on Tuesday, he noted that “Myanmar’s proposal of partial repatriation might be a ‘trick’ to neutralise the mounting pressure from the international community.”

The minister was speaking at a roundtable discussion at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies on Tuesday morning.

“Myanmar may curtail the number of repatriates using their own verification process and may delay the implementation of the recommendations from the Kofi Annan Commission advisory, giving various excuses.”

He said it would be difficult for Bangladesh to send back the Rohingya, who have fled the violent “ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine that began once again on August 25, to Myanmar without support from international community.


Also Read- Bangladesh foreign minister: Myanmar must play key role in resolving Rohingya crisis


“The Rohingya crisis is no longer an internal issue in Myanmar. It is a regional crisis now.”

Minister Mahmood Ali noted that the Myanmar army was strengthening their forces in Rakhine about a month before August 25.

On the Myanmar’s home minister’s plan for “demographic balance,” Mahmood said the Myanmar army was working with Buddhist extremists to execute their plan.

“It is quite noticeable that the Myanmar government is trying to sow confusion among the international community and their own citizens by promoting false news in their state-run media.

“They are trying to establish this issue as ‘Islamic terrorism’ or ‘extremist Bangali terrorism’. Their campaign plans to confuse their neighbours.

Source : http://www.dhakatribune.com

Exclusive: West edges towards punishing Myanmar army leaders over Rohingya crisis – sources

YANGON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The European Union and the United States are considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar military leaders over an offensive that has driven more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country, officials familiar with the discussions say.

Interviews with more than a dozen diplomats and government officials based in Washington, Yangon and Europe revealed that punitive measures aimed specifically at top generals were among a range of options being discussed in response to the crisis.

Nothing has yet been decided and Washington and Brussels may decide to hold off for now, the sources said. There are also discussions about increasing aid for violence-riven Rakhine state.

The active discussion of sanctions – not even on the table a month ago – shows how the dramatic exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s northwest is putting pressure on Western policymakers to take action.

While much of the outcry overseas has focused on Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, few Western diplomats see an alternative to her leadership. Suu Kyi does not control the military, which still wields considerable power under Myanmar’s army-written constitution.

The EU Foreign Ministers Council will discuss Myanmar on Oct. 16, although officials do not expect any move on sanctions that soon. Danish minister for development cooperation, Ulla Tornaes, told Reuters that Copenhagen had been working to get the crisis on the agenda, “with the wish to put further pressure on the military”.

Two Washington-based U.S. officials with knowledge of the Trump administration’s Myanmar deliberations said targeted sanctions against commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and several other generals, as well as leaders of ethnic Rakhine Buddhist militias accused of torching Rohingya villages, were under consideration.

Such sanctions – if decided on – would likely entail U.S. asset freezes, bans on travel to the United States, prohibitions against Americans doing business with them and other unspecified penalties. Washington was moving cautiously as it consulted with governments in Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia, the U.S. officials said.

A senior Yangon-based European diplomat also said Western countries were coordinating their response to the crisis and were in agreement that it was the military, and specifically the commander-in-chief, who needed to be targeted in any punitive action.

Any punishment was likely to be symbolic at first to allow room for further talks, Yangon-based diplomats said, giving the example of formally banning the army chief, who over the past year visited Brussels, Berlin and Vienna, from further travel to Europe.
Western diplomats admit their leverage is limited: compared with China, whose ties with Myanmar have warmed since Suu Kyi took office 18 months ago, U.S. and European investment and military engagement with the country are small.

They are also wary of action that could hurt the wider economy or destabilize already tense ties between Suu Kyi and the army.

PRESSURE BUILDING

The United Nations is pressing for increased humanitarian access to other parts of Rakhine, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya remain. How Myanmar responds to calls for increased aid, the investigation of alleged atrocities or repatriation of refugees would be a key consideration in deciding what action to take, U.S. and EU diplomats in Myanmar said.

“We can pile political pressure, look into financing we have in Myanmar. We have humanitarian aid, as well as development aid … the European Commission won’t invest in the development of Myanmar if the conditions, including security, are not there,” said a Brussels-based EU diplomat who follows Myanmar.

A Rohingya refugee boy runs through a fence onto aid distribution premises at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
“There is also the arms trade embargo and we discuss regularly whether we should reward the reforms in Myanmar and look at gradual easing of that, or the opposite.”

EU economic sanctions on Myanmar were lifted after the army stepped back from direct rule of the country in 2012, beginning the democratic transition that brought Suu Kyi to power last year, but an arms embargo in force since the 1990s remains. The United States removed most sanctions on Myanmar last autumn. It too has kept an arms embargo in place.

One Washington-based U.S. official said that, while there was no firm deadline, Washington hoped to have a plan of action on Myanmar in place by the time President Donald Trump travels to Asia for a series of summits in the first half of November.

The administration wanted to send a strong message to Myanmar’s military, but was concerned that too drastic action could allow China to expand its growing diplomatic and economic influence in the country, the official said.

There is little support in the administration for the re-imposition of broader economic sanctions, the official added.

Slideshow (2 Images)
The White House declined comment on internal deliberations on the Rohingya crisis.

STRAINED RELATIONS

In another sign of pressure building on Myanmar, New York-based diplomats said the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the U.N. General Assembly was pushing for a human rights resolution on the country.

Last year the EU announced that for the first time in 15 years it would not introduce a resolution at the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, condemning Myanmar’s record – rewarding it for progress.

The European bloc could revive the resolution in the current session, taking on board the OIC draft and broadening it out beyond the Rohingya crisis, one diplomat in New York said.

Diplomats said some members of the U.N. Security Council were exploring whether the 15-member body could agree a formal statement, or even a resolution, calling for an end to the violence, full access for aid and the safe return of refugees.

However, Myanmar has said it was negotiating with China and Russia, which have veto powers in the Security Council, to protect it from any possible action. China and Russia have both expressed support for the Myanmar government.

Myanmar’s relations with the U.N. have grown increasingly testy since the discovery of World Food Programme-branded biscuits at a suspected militant camp in July prompted the government to accuse the U.N. agency of supporting the insurgents, forcing it to shut down its operations in Rakhine.

Myanmar is stalling on accepting a plan by the U.N. to upgrade the U.N. country head to the more powerful rank of Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) when its current top official, who is due to be rotated, is replaced.

Thaung Tun, Suu Kyi’s National Security Advisor, told Reuters that the U.N. “must treat us equally”.

“We’ll be fine with anybody if all member states have an ASG assigned. Not just us,” he said.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski in Yangon and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Simon Lewis in Yangon, Teis Jensen in Copenhagen, Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott in Brussels and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Alex Richardson
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source : www.reuters.com

Exclusive – EU may shun Myanmar generals in new sanctions: draft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will cut back contacts with Myanmar’s top generals in a first step to increase sanctions over an army offensive that has driven more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

Thousands of the Rohingya fled for Myanmar to Bangladesh on Monday in a new surge of refugees driven by fears of starvation and violence which the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing.

The United States and the European Union have been considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar military leaders, though the European bloc sees its options as relatively limited, with no hard-hitting, direct leverage on the ground.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the situation in Myanmar on Oct.16, and their draft joint statement said the bloc “will suspend invitations to the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar/Burma armed forces and other senior military officers”.

The text, which will be discussed further by envoys from the 28 EU states on Tuesday and may be modified, said the EU may consider further measures depending on developments in Myanmar but would “respond accordingly to positive developments”.

The document confirmed support for an existing EU embargo on arms and equipment “that can be used for internal repression”.

It called on Myanmar to discuss repatriating refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh and praised the latter for its role in the crisis, which started when attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts brought a ferocious military response.

Refugees and rights groups say the army and Buddhist vigilantes use killing and arson to drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar. Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing.

The EU draft characterised the situation in the most-affected Rakhine State as “extremely serious” and said Kachin and Shan provinces were also “of great concern.”

It called on all sides to cease violence, told the military to “end its operations” and protect all civilians equally, as well as calling on Myanmar to allow humanitarian access to the affected regions.

The West has invested politically in Myanmar leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has faced scathing international criticism for not doing more to stop the violence.

While the EU feels disillusioned, it also acknowledges Aung San Suu Kyi has little influence over Myanmar’s security forces.

The move to punish the army head is largely symbolic as the West is also wary of hurting the wider economy or destabilising already-tense ties between Suu Kyi and the army.

Its leverage on the ground fades compared to that of Myanmar’s immediate neighbours, including China.

Source : https://uk.reuters.com

Exclusive: West edges towards punishing Myanmar army leaders over Rohingya crisis – sources

YANGON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The European Union and the United States are considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar military leaders over an offensive that has driven more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country, officials familiar with the discussions say.

Interviews with more than a dozen diplomats and government officials based in Washington, Yangon and Europe revealed that punitive measures aimed specifically at top generals were among a range of options being discussed in response to the crisis.

Nothing has yet been decided and Washington and Brussels may decide to hold off for now, the sources said. There are also discussions about increasing aid for violence-riven Rakhine state.

The active discussion of sanctions – not even on the table a month ago – shows how the dramatic exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s northwest is putting pressure on Western policymakers to take action.

While much of the outcry overseas has focused on Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, few Western diplomats see an alternative to her leadership. Suu Kyi does not control the military, which still wields considerable power under Myanmar’s army-written constitution.

The EU Foreign Ministers Council will discuss Myanmar on Oct. 16, although officials do not expect any move on sanctions that soon. Danish minister for development cooperation, Ulla Tornaes, told Reuters that Copenhagen had been working to get the crisis on the agenda, “with the wish to put further pressure on the military”.

Two Washington-based U.S. officials with knowledge of the Trump administration’s Myanmar deliberations said targeted sanctions against commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and several other generals, as well as leaders of ethnic Rakhine Buddhist militias accused of torching Rohingya villages, were under consideration.

Such sanctions – if decided on – would likely entail U.S. asset freezes, bans on travel to the United States, prohibitions against Americans doing business with them and other unspecified penalties. Washington was moving cautiously as it consulted with governments in Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia, the U.S. officials said.

A senior Yangon-based European diplomat also said Western countries were coordinating their response to the crisis and were in agreement that it was the military, and specifically the commander-in-chief, who needed to be targeted in any punitive action.

Any punishment was likely to be symbolic at first to allow room for further talks, Yangon-based diplomats said, giving the example of formally banning the army chief, who over the past year visited Brussels, Berlin and Vienna, from further travel to Europe.
Western diplomats admit their leverage is limited: compared with China, whose ties with Myanmar have warmed since Suu Kyi took office 18 months ago, U.S. and European investment and military engagement with the country are small.

They are also wary of action that could hurt the wider economy or destabilize already tense ties between Suu Kyi and the army.
PRESSURE BUILDING

The United Nations is pressing for increased humanitarian access to other parts of Rakhine, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya remain. How Myanmar responds to calls for increased aid, the investigation of alleged atrocities or repatriation of refugees would be a key consideration in deciding what action to take, U.S. and EU diplomats in Myanmar said.

“We can pile political pressure, look into financing we have in Myanmar. We have humanitarian aid, as well as development aid … the European Commission won’t invest in the development of Myanmar if the conditions, including security, are not there,” said a Brussels-based EU diplomat who follows Myanmar.
“There is also the arms trade embargo and we discuss regularly whether we should reward the reforms in Myanmar and look at gradual easing of that, or the opposite.”

EU economic sanctions on Myanmar were lifted after the army stepped back from direct rule of the country in 2012, beginning the democratic transition that brought Suu Kyi to power last year, but an arms embargo in force since the 1990s remains. The United States removed most sanctions on Myanmar last autumn. It too has kept an arms embargo in place.

One Washington-based U.S. official said that, while there was no firm deadline, Washington hoped to have a plan of action on Myanmar in place by the time President Donald Trump travels to Asia for a series of summits in the first half of November.

The administration wanted to send a strong message to Myanmar’s military, but was concerned that too drastic action could allow China to expand its growing diplomatic and economic influence in the country, the official said.

There is little support in the administration for the re-imposition of broader economic sanctions, the official added.

In another sign of pressure building on Myanmar, New York-based diplomats said the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the U.N. General Assembly was pushing for a human rights resolution on the country.

Last year the EU announced that for the first time in 15 years it would not introduce a resolution at the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, condemning Myanmar’s record – rewarding it for progress.

The European bloc could revive the resolution in the current session, taking on board the OIC draft and broadening it out beyond the Rohingya crisis, one diplomat in New York said.

Diplomats said some members of the U.N. Security Council were exploring whether the 15-member body could agree a formal statement, or even a resolution, calling for an end to the violence, full access for aid and the safe return of refugees.

However, Myanmar has said it was negotiating with China and Russia, which have veto powers in the Security Council, to protect it from any possible action. China and Russia have both expressed support for the Myanmar government.

Myanmar’s relations with the U.N. have grown increasingly testy since the discovery of World Food Programme-branded biscuits at a suspected militant camp in July prompted the government to accuse the U.N. agency of supporting the insurgents, forcing it to shut down its operations in Rakhine.

Myanmar is stalling on accepting a plan by the U.N. to upgrade the U.N. country head to the more powerful rank of Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) when its current top official, who is due to be rotated, is replaced.

Thaung Tun, Suu Kyi’s National Security Advisor, told Reuters that the U.N. “must treat us equally”.

“We’ll be fine with anybody if all member states have an ASG assigned. Not just us,” he said.

Source : https://www.reuters.com/