The unexpected announcement by Burma that it would like for the U.N. to take over the resettlement of Rohingya to refugee camps or third countries is likely to be a major topic when President Thein Sein meets with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Siem Reap on Friday.
Thein Sein told the head of the U.N. refugee agency on Thursday in Naypyitaw that Rohingya were not welcome and they are “not of our ethnicity.” Sectarian violence between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhists erupted in western Burma in June.
The two leaders will meet on the sidelines of a U.S. business conference, where they will also discuss the recent removal of U.S. investment restrictions on Burma.
Clinton said on Thursday during the Asean Summit that Washington welcomed reforms in Burma, but it recognized many serious issues remained, such as the sectarian violence in western Burma pitting Rohingya Muslims and Burmese Buddhist against each other, peace among ethnic armed groups and other issues that prevent true national reconciliation.
The U.S. elimination of bars to investment “does not mean we are satisfied that reform is complete or irreversible. Political prisoners remain in detention,” she told leaders of the Asia Regional Forum.
“Ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence continues to undermine progress toward national reconciliation, stability, and lasting peace,” she said. “And fundamental reforms are required to strengthen the rule of law and increase transparency.”
Under the new investment rules, U.S. companies could enter into business with the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which controls the rights to investments in the oil and gas sector, but the U.S. has put in place disclosure rules in which companies must notify the State Department within 60 days and report annually on its investment holdings and address issues such as human rights, worker rights and the environment. They are barred from doing business with the Burmese defence ministry or armed groups.
“We are encouraging American businesses to invest in a manner that promotes responsible development and further reform,” Clinton told the forum.
She also announced that a high-level delegation of American business leaders will be visiting Rangoon and Naypyitaw in the coming days led by two high-ranking economic and trade officials.
Human Rights Watch slammed the U.S. investment decision, saying the United States gave in to industry pressure and “undercut Aung San Suu Kyi,” because it did not insist on reforms in governance and human rights before allowing the investments. The E.U., Britain, Japan, Australia and many other nations have also moved to allow direct investments in Burma in the past month.
Thein Sein was also set to take part in a US-Asean business forum on Friday, which represents the largest ever gathering of American business leaders in Asia.
On Thursday, he urged the West to lift all sanctions as he begins “a second wave” of economic reforms. The U.S. still bans trade imports from Burma.
“It is extremely important that sanctions be lifted – both financial and other economic sanctions – to make possible the sort of trade and investments that this country desperately needs at this time,” he told the Financial Times.