British MPs call for further arms sanctions on Myanmar over Rohingya persecution

Rohingya refugees stretch out their hands to receive food aid at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. There are around 800,000 Rohingya now living in camps in Bangladesh. (Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2018
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British MPs call for further arms sanctions on Myanmar over Rohingya persecution

  • Monsoon season increases urgency for more aid to Bangladeshi refugee camps.
  • ‘Governments shake their heads and say never again. That isn’t good enough,’ says lawmaker.

London: British MPs have called for further arms sanctions to be imposed on Myanmar in an effort to tackle the persecution of the minority Rohingya people in the country.

There are around 800,000 Rohingya now living in camps in Bangladesh after fleeing Rakhine state to escape a wave of violence instigated by Myanmar’s military since mid-2017.

The UN said last month that the treatment of the Muslim minority group has amounted to “ethnic cleansing,” as security forces continue to kill Rohingya, burn down their villages and abduct and rape women and girls to drive them out of the country.

Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North, said on Monday it was time that the UK and international community do more to bring an end to the violence and bring the perpetrators to an international court.

“We seem to be reluctant to collect evidence of what has happened,” she said during a select committee debate on April 16 discussing petitions signed by members of the UK public calling for more action, including sanctions, on Myanmar.

The UK had sent some advisers to Bangladesh to help collate information on what happened to the Rohingya, she said.

“Where is the rest of the world? It is true that time after time, governments shake their heads and say never again. That isn’t good enough. We said it after Bosnia, we said it after Rwanda. We keep saying it.

“It is not good enough to ask the Burmese to investigate themselves, they have already cleared the army of any crimes,” she said.

Jones said that it was “very urgent” for more pressure to be placed on Myanmar to accept an independent investigation into what has happened, citing reports that Myanmar security forces were already bulldozing villages and destroying potential evidence.

“I hope that the UK government will say clearly that it is right that the UN refers Burma (Myanmar) to the International Criminal Court (ICC),” she said.

Financial sanctions against Myanmar would also help ramp up the pressure on Myanmar to allow an investigation, she said.

While the EU has already imposed an arms embargo, Jones said there is a need for a “world embargo on selling arms to Burma.”

The UK has already pledged £47 million ($63 million) at an international aid conference held in Geneva last October. A total of $300 million was pledged by countries including Sweden, Denmark, Australia and the UAE.

“What we must do now is work to ensure that other countries step up too,” Jones said, calling on wealthier countries to provide more aid to “avert a tragedy” in Bangladesh as monsoon season starts to threaten the already overcrowded camps.

The rains will likely flood the camps and sewage systems bringing disease and more deaths, Jones said.

Conservative MP and trade envoy to Myanmar, Paul Scully, said he also backed the use of “targeted” sanctions against companies related to the military.

“We need to target our sanctions really carefully … at military-owned organizations,” he said.

“I wouldn’t want to see an overall sanction regime waged against Burma,” he said, adding that such action could risk impoverishing other people.

Currently Bangladesh does not categorize the Rohingya as “refugees,” meaning they are unable to leave the camps and seek refuge in other areas of the country.

Bangladesh is currently constructing new camps that Jones likened to “prison camps,” and is keen to repatriate the Rohingya to Myanmar, it was claimed.

“It is very clear that the aim of the Bangladeshi government is to ensure that the Rohingya are repatriated, and that may be a very laudable ambition in the long-term, but they can not return while violence continues in Rakhine, and while they are not recognized as citizens of their own country, and there is no humanitarian access to monitor their return,” Jones said.

In response to MPs’ calls for sanctions, Mark Field, minister of state for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that the UK government has so far “not advocated sanctions” against any sector or entity in Myanmar. He said that it was “difficult to predict or control the effect of financial sanctions.”

“There is a concern that targeting companies and sectors has the danger to lead to greater isolation of the Burmese economy which will strengthen (the) relative power of military,” he said, as well as the power of Myanmar’s neighbor China.

He added that the UK is preparing to launch pilot projects this year that will help support Myanmar’s transition to democracy and strengthen laws designed to protect Rohingya and other minorities.


Korean summit starts with a handshake, after year of tension

orth Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone. (AP)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Korean summit starts with a handshake, after year of tension

  • Their hands still clasped, Moon invited the North Korean leader into the South for the first time ever
  • North and South Korean officials conducted three days of on-site rehearsals to map out virtually every move of the leaders’ initial encounter

GOYANG, South Korea: After a year of tensions, the first North-South Korea summit in more than a decade began Friday with a handshake.
Surrounded by bodyguards and other members of his delegation, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emerged right on cue from a large building on the northern side of the border in the truce village of Panmunjom, walked down a wide flight of stairs and strolled confidently toward South Korean President Moon Jae-in to begin the historic meeting.
Smiling broadly and exchanging greetings, the two shook hands for a long time, exchanging greetings and looking from outward appearances like old friends.
Moon had awaited Kim’s arrival at “Freedom House,” a building on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone. As soon as he saw Kim come out, he walked to meet him at the border so that their handshake would be at the most symbolic of locations, each leader standing on his side of the military demarcation line that separates North from South.
Their hands still clasped, Moon invited the North Korean leader into the South for the first time ever, just one step over a line marked by an ankle-high strip of concrete.
After he did, Kim, in return, gestured for Moon to step into the North. They both did, and then returned to the South together, hands held.
Kim was then met by South Korean children bearing flowers and a military honor guard before he headed into the summit hall to sign a guestbook, visibly out of breath.
Like everything about Friday’s summit, the handshake and all the atmospherics around it were carefully orchestrated and agreed upon in advance. North and South Korean officials conducted three days of on-site rehearsals to map out virtually every move of the leaders’ initial encounter.
Even so, the moment was a striking contrast to the rising fears of conflict that dominated relations just one year ago, when Kim was test-launching long-range missiles at a record pace and trading crude insults with US President Donald Trump.
It was the second big North-South handshake in as many months — coming after Moon and Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, who accompanied him on Friday, shook hands at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South in February.
That seemingly impromptu moment came as a joint North-South team marched into the Olympic Stadium, part of an effort to use the Games to try to improve relations.
Moon, elated at the sight, turned and shook the hand of Kim’s sister, who was seated right behind him in the VIP box on the first trip to the South ever by a member of the North’s ruling family. The image of the two beaming with pride stood out all the more because US Vice President Mike Pence, representing the White House, sat stone-faced nearby.
Photos of that handshake were top news the next day in both Koreas.
The Koreas have a host of difficult and often seemingly intractable obstacles ahead of them, but no matter the outcome of the summit, they seemed acutely aware that the photos of Kim and Moon’s handshake will be bound for the history books.