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.


North Korea road accident causes ‘heavy casualties’: China

Updated 23 April 2018
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North Korea road accident causes ‘heavy casualties’: China

  • The vast majority of foreign tourists to North Korea are Chinese, with the Cold War-era allies sharing a long land border and operating flights between the two countries
  • The accident occurred in North Hwanghae province, the foreign ministry said

BEIJING: A road accident in North Korea has caused “heavy casualties” among Chinese tourists, the foreign ministry in Beijing said on Monday.
The ministry provided few details but China’s state broadcaster CGTN earlier tweeted that more than 30 people died when a tour bus fell from a bridge in North Korea. The tweet was later deleted.
China was informed about the accident on Sunday night, and its embassy personnel in Pyongyang rushed to the scene and are working to manage the situation, the foreign ministry statement said.
The vast majority of foreign tourists to North Korea are Chinese, with the Cold War-era allies sharing a long land border and operating flights between the two countries.
Western visitors to the North once averaged around 5,000 a year, but numbers have been hit recently by a US travel ban — Americans accounted for around 20 percent of the market — and official warnings from other countries.
Tens of thousands of Chinese tourists are believed to visit the North every year, with many crossing via train through the Chinese border city of Dandong. For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago.
Chinese tourism to the North has continued even though Beijing has enforced a slew of United Nations sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
The accident occurred in North Hwanghae province, the foreign ministry said.
The province lies south of the capital and stretches to the border with the South, including the city of Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital with historical sites.
More recently, the area hosted a manufacturing complex operated with South Korea.
The tour group was traveling by bus from Kaesong to Pyongyang when the accident happened, according to the independent Seoul-based website NK News, which cited an unnamed source.
State broadcaster CCTV showed images of a large overturned vehicle with light rain falling on rescue vehicles and doctors attending to a patient in its news broadcast of the incident.
North Korean roads are largely poor and potholed, and in many areas they are dirt rather than tarmac.
Bridges are sometimes out of commission, requiring rivers to be forded or vehicles to take detours.
But the route from Pyongyang to Kaesong, where the accident reportedly happened, is one of the best in the country.
It runs north-south from Sinuiju on the Chinese border to the Demilitarized Zone on the border with the South, but nonetheless has little traffic, like all North Korean highways.
Tank traps have been installed along it in many locations toward the frontier — sets of high concrete columns on either side of the road that can easily be blown up to create an obstruction for invading armor.
China’s foreign ministry said it was still verifying details of the situation.
The ministry said it activated an emergency mechanism Sunday night and is “sparing no efforts” to handle the situation, the statement said.