Myanmar’s Suu Kyi meets Tillerson and UN chief on Rohingya crisis

Myanmar's State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi during the opening session of the ASEAN and EU summit at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay, metro Manila, Philippines on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 14 November 2017
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Myanmar’s Suu Kyi meets Tillerson and UN chief on Rohingya crisis

MANILA: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced rising global pressure Tuesday to solve the crisis for her nation’s displaced Rohingya Muslim minority, meeting the UN chief and America’s top diplomat in the Philippines.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Nobel laureate that hundreds of thousands of displaced Muslims who had fled to Bangladesh should be allowed to return to their homes in Myanmar.
“The secretary-general highlighted that strengthened efforts to ensure humanitarian access, safe, dignified, voluntary and sustained returns, as well as true reconciliation between communities, would be essential,” a UN statement said, summarizing comments to Suu Kyi.
Guterres’ comments came hours before Suu Kyi sat down with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila.
Washington has been cautious in its statements on the situation in Rakhine, and has avoided outright criticism of Suu Kyi.
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 at the top of 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 — who is headed to Myanmar on Wednesday — was asked by reporters if he “had a message for Burmese leaders.”
He apparently ignored the question, replying only: “Thank you,” according to a pool report of the encounter.
A senior US State Department official later said the top diplomat would press Myanmar’s powerful army chief on Wednesday to halt the violence in Rakhine and make it safe for Rohingya to return.
The official did not comment on whether Tillerson would raise the threat of military sanctions, which US lawmakers have pushed for.
Canada’s Justin Trudeau said he had spoken to Myanmar’s de facto leader.
“I had an extended conversation with... Aung San Suu Kyi, about the plight of the Muslim refugees in Rakhine state,” he told a press conference.
“This is of tremendous concern to Canada and many, many other countries around the world.
“We are always looking at... how we can help, how we can move forward in a way that reduces violence, that emphasises the rule of law and that ensures protection for all citizens,” he said.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh since late August, and now live in the squalor of the world’s biggest refugee camp.
The crisis erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, triggering a military crackdown that saw hundreds of villages reduced to ashes and sparked a massive exodus.
The UN says the Myanmar military is engaged in a “coordinated and systematic” attempt to purge the region of Rohingya in what amounts to a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The stream of desperate refugees who escape across the riverine border bring with them stories of rape, murder and the torching of villages by soldiers and Buddhist mobs.
The Burmese government insists military action in Rakhine is a proportionate response to violence by militants.
Following its first official investigation into the crisis, the army published a report this week in which it cleared itself of any abuses.
However, it heavily restricts access to the region by independent journalists and aid groups, and verification of events on the ground is virtually impossible.
Suu Kyi, a former democracy activist, has been lambasted by rights groups for failing to speak up for the Rohingya or condemn festering anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
Musician and campaigner Bob Geldof on Monday slammed Suu Kyi as a “murderer” and a “handmaiden to genocide,” becoming the latest in a growing line of global figures to disavow the one-time darling of the human rights community.
Supporters say she does not have the power to stop the powerful military, which ruled the country for decades until her party came to power following 2015 elections.
In a summit on Monday night with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, Guterres also voiced concern about the Rohingya.
He said the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya was a “worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy,” according to the UN statement.
He described the situation as a potential source of instability in the region, as well as radicalization.


Honduran migrant caravan crosses Guatemala border, US-bound

Updated 19 min 53 sec ago
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Honduran migrant caravan crosses Guatemala border, US-bound

  • Fleeing poverty and violence of their home nation, the migrants arrived at the Guatemalan border chanting, “Yes, we can"
  • US Vice President Mike Pence earlier urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to persuade their citizens to not put their families in danger by undertaking the risky journey
ESQUIPULAS, Guatemala: Hundreds of Honduran migrants surged over the Guatemalan border under a broiling sun Monday hoping to make it to new lives in the United States, far from the poverty and violence of their home nation.
Police stopped the migrants at a roadblock outside Esquipulas for several hours in the afternoon, but the travelers refused to return to the border and were eventually allowed to pass.
They arrived in town as night fell, exhausted by the day’s heat, hobbling on blistered feet. Few carried food and some local residents began to organize to help feed them. Some migrants asked for money, others passing a bakery were handed bread.
Earlier in the day, the migrants arrived at the Guatemalan border singing the Honduran national anthem, praying and chanting, “Yes, we can.” The group estimated at 1,600 or more defied an order by the Guatemalan government that they not be allowed to pass.
“We have rights,” the migrants shouted.
Keilin Umana, a 21-year-old who is two months pregnant, said she was moved to migrate to save herself and her unborn child after she was threatened with death.
Umana, a nurse, said she had been walking for four days. “We are not criminals — we are migrants,” she said.
Many in the caravan traveled light, with just backpacks and bottles of water. Some pushed toddlers in strollers or carried them on their shoulders.
Carlos Cortez, a 32-year-old farmer traveling on foot with his 7-year-old son, said poverty back home made it impossible to support a family.
“Every day I earn about $5,” Cortez said. “That isn’t enough to feed my family.”
The caravan was met at the border by about 100 Guatemalan police officers. After a standoff of about two hours, the migrants began walking again. Outnumbered, the police did nothing to stop them and accompanied them several miles (kilometers) into Guatemalan territory.
Officers then set up the roadblock about a mile (2 kilometers) outside the city of Esquipulas, where the migrants had planned to spend the night.
The migrants were stuck for about three hours. About 250 police kept them from advancing and told them they had to return to the border to go through immigration. The migrants refused to budge and it appeared they would likely sleep on the highway. But eventually officers let them pass.
Some police and Guatemalan civilians offered the migrants water, and some locals drove Hondurans part of the way. Red Cross workers gave medical attention to some migrants who fainted in the heat.
The caravan began as about 160 people who first gathered early Friday to depart from San Pedro Sula, one of Honduras’ most dangerous places, figuring that traveling as a group would make them less vulnerable to robbery, assault and other dangers common on the migratory path through Central America and Mexico.
Local media coverage prompted hundreds more to join, and Dunia Montoya, a volunteer assisting the migrants, estimated Sunday that the group had grown to at least 1,600 people. Police gave their own estimate of around 2,000 on Monday.
The caravan formed a day after US Vice President Mike Pence urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to persuade their citizens to stay home and not put their families in danger by undertaking the risky journey to the United States.
In April, President Donald Trump threatened in April to withdraw foreign aid from Honduras and countries that allowed transit for a similar caravan that set out from the Central American country. That caravan dwindled as the group approached the US border, with some giving up along the way and others splitting off to try to cross on their own.
Historian Dana Frank, an expert on human rights and US policy in Honduras, said the caravan could have political implications in the United States less than a month before the midterm elections.
“Whatever the caravan’s origins, some in the United States will be quick to raise alarms about a supposed dangerous immigrant invasion, and use that to try to influence the upcoming US elections,” Frank said. “Others will view these migrants with compassion and as further evidence of the need for comprehensive immigration reform ... .”
Frank added that the caravan’s rapid growth “underscores quite how desperate the Honduran people are — that they’d begin walking toward refuge in the United States with only a day back full of belongings.”
In San Pedro Sula, where the procession started, sociologist Jenny Arguello said authorities wanted to make the mass migration out to be a political event, but it was just poor people fleeing violence.
“From my community 20 went and one neighbor came back sad with his little backpack because when he arrived they had already left,” Arguello said. “You see that the need to leave is the priority. The people have already made up their minds and just hearing of the possibility they take off.”
Honduras is largely dominated by murderous gangs that prey on families and businesses, and routinely sees homicide rates that are among the highest in the world.
Late Monday, Mexico’s immigration authority said in a statement directed at the caravan that agents would have to review them individually at the border and those who did not meet requirements would not be allowed to enter.
Katie Waldman, a US Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said in a statement that the caravan was “what we see day-in and day-out at the border as a result of well-advertised and well-known catch-and-release loopholes.”
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Associated Press writers Maria Verza in San Pedro Sula and Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California, contributed to this report.