Myanmar yesterday hit back at a UN Security Council statement critical of its handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis, saying it could "seriously harm" efforts to repatriate the Muslim minority from Bangladesh, reports AFP.
On Monday the top UN body called on Myanmar to rein in military operations that have pushed more than 600,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh since late August, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis.
The statement expressed "grave concern" over rights violations such as killing, sexual violence and torching of homes and property, "including by the Myanmar security forces".
Other UN agencies have previously described the army crackdown, which Myanmar says is targeting Rohingyas rebels, as tantamount to ethnic cleansing.
Responding to the Security Council on Wednesday, the office of Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the statement "ignores the fact that the issues facing Myanmar and Bangladesh today can only be resolved bilaterally, in an amicable manner, between two neighbouring states."
The statement "could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously", it added.
After weeks of tension over the billowing crisis, Myanmar and Bangladesh have begun talks on how to repatriate the refugees.
According to AFP, the two sides have yet to finalise a deal, with Myanmar last week accusing Bangladesh of delaying the process, while a Dhaka official said it was Myanmar who was not ready.
The crisis has showered global censure on Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate once feted around the globe for her years-long struggle against the former junta.
While she lacks control over the military and security policy, the leader has been blasted for not using her moral authority to defend the Rohingyas against an increasingly vocal strain of Islamophobia espoused by the Buddhist public.
Diplomats said the UN Security Council statement, which fell short of a full resolution, was watered down to secure backing from Beijing.
Rights groups have accused the UN body of dragging its feet over the Rohingya crisis and called for sanctions against those involved in the atrocities.
The US, which is dispatching Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Myanmar on November 15, has said it is seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis but has not ruled out sanctions.
Earlier this month US lawmakers introduced a bill that would curtail assistance or cooperation with Myanmar's military and require the White House to identify senior military officials who would have US visa bans imposed or reimposed against them.
REFUGEES YEARN TO RETURN: SIMON HENSHAW
A top US diplomat who recently visited Bangladesh has said he saw “evidence of atrocities” committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority, our diplomatic correspondent reports.
“What we saw in the camps was shocking. The scale of the refugee crisis is immense,” said Simon Henshaw, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Henshaw led a 5-member delegation to Myanmar and Bangladesh during Oct 29 to Nov 4 to see firsthand what is happening in regard to the humanitarian situation and the impact of US assistance.
“The conditions are tough. People are suffering. Many refugees told us, through tears, accounts of seeing their villages burned, their relatives killed in front of them,” he told reporters during a special briefing in State Department in Washington last Tuesday.
Henshaw said despite the trauma, many expressed a strong desire to return to their homes in Myanmar, provided their safety, security, and rights could be guaranteed.
The Acting Assistant Secretary said he saw evidence of atrocities during the visit to the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar.
“I'm not an expert. What I saw was shocking. I saw evidence of atrocities,” he said when asked if the atrocities rose up to the level of ethnic cleansing.
Henshaw further said that was not his job to make that determination. “That's not my call to make. The department will review my reports and others, and will make a determination.”
He highly appreciated the generosity and commitment of the government and people of Bangladesh for extending support to the refugees.
“However, more is needed. The US remains committed to addressing the needs of those impacted by the crisis and calls on others, including in the region, to join us in our response,” he said.
When asked whether the US delegation granted full access in Myanmar during their visit (on Oct 29-31), Henshaw said “full access has not been granted to press and international NGOs in northern Rakhine State. We urged the government to do so.”
On another question about guarantees of repatriation, he said the Myanmar government “appears to be committed” to start a repatriation, “but it was in the early stages.”
“It's very important to us that that programme not only creates safe conditions so that refugees will want to return voluntarily, but also assure that refugees go back to their villages and land, that their houses be restored in the areas where the villages were burned, and that political reconciliation take place,” Henshaw said.
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, who accompanied the Simon led delegation during the visit, applauded the government of Bangladesh for taking "an extraordinary step to open its heart and doors" for their neighbours in distress.
The US delegation included Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Vajda of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs; and Office Director Patricia Mahoney of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
ROHINGYAS RESORT TO MAKESHIFT RAFTS
Dozens of Rohingya refugees floated into Bangladesh on Wednesday on a raft fashioned from plastic jerrycans, as the persecuted Muslim minority continue to flee violence in Myanmar in droves, officials told AFP.
The AFP reported that Bangladesh border guards spotted the makeshift raft overloaded with more than 50 passengers as it drifted toward the coastal village of Shah Porir Dwip village.
Local border guard commander S.M. Ariful Islam told AFP the 52 refugees tied plastic jerrycans together to float across the Naf River separating the two countries.
"A lot of them arrived today on rafts made from plastic jerrycans," local community policeman Abdul Jabbar told AFP on Tuesday.
Authorities have cracked down on boat arrivals in recent weeks as border guards alleged that drug traffickers were using the exodus to smuggle methamphetamine pills aboard the craft.