US to back democratic transition in Myanmar


Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert, second from left, speaks at a press conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh after visiting a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. Photo: U.S. Department of State

US State Department spokesperson Ms Heather Nauert has said that her country will continue to work for Myanmar's democratic transition.

Ms Nauert speaking at a meeting of selected media on Tuesday in Yangon said that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will arrive in Myanmar on Wednesday (November 15) and meet both State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

The US ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel also said at the meeting that “The US expects Myanmar to provide unhindered media access to Rakhine, especially during the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh." 

"This is important for us," he reiterated.

Earlier on Tuesday, Suu Kyi discussed the Rakhine situation with Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila.

Suu Kyi's supporters say she must navigate a path between outrage abroad and popular feeling in a majority Buddhist country where most people believe the Rohingya are interlopers.

At a photo opportunity before her meeting with Tillerson, Suu Kyi ignored a journalist who asked if the Rohingya were citizens of Myanmar.

At a later appearance after the meeting, Tillerson was asked by reporters if he "had a message for Burmese leaders".

He apparently ignored the question, replying only: "Thank you".

US human rights bodies have debunked the Myanmar military's assertion that no human rights abuses were committed during recent operations against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State.

"This was contrary to a large and growing body of evidence," said Brad Adams, Asia director of the US-based Human Rights Watch.

On November 13, 2017, a Myanmar army “investigation team” issued a report finding that there were “no deaths of innocent people,” while at least 376 “terrorists” were killed during fighting.

"The Burmese authorities’ failure to credibly and impartially investigate grave violations amounting to crimes against humanity demonstrates the need for the government to allow the United Nations-appointed fact-finding mission into the country to conduct independent investigations," Adams said in a statement.
 
“The Burmese military’s absurd effort to absolve itself of mass atrocities underscores why an independent international investigation is needed to establish the facts and identify those responsible,” he added.

“The Burmese authorities have once again shown that they can’t and won’t credibly investigate themselves.”

The Myanmar army investigation team, led by the Defense Services Inspector General, Lt.-Gen. Aye Win, said that it interviewed 3,217 villagers from October 13 to November 7, collecting 804 witness accounts. Those interviewed reportedly included “Bengalis,” a derogatory term used to describe the Rohingya, whom the Myanmar government considers to be foreigners from Bangladesh. There is no indication that the investigators conducted interviews in Bangladesh, where more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled following the beginning of security force operations.

The report says that the military acted in accordance with “orders and directives of superior bodies, especially the rules of engagement [ROE] in connection with the rights of self-defence and in discharging duties during armed conflict and anti-terrorist operations.”

It denies allegations that security forces indiscriminately shot Rohingya villagers fleeing their homes, rape and other sexual and gender-based violence, looting, destruction of homes and mosques, and threats to drive Rohingya from their homes. It also denies that security forces deployed “heavy weapons” in its operations, such as grenades and rocket launchers.

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