Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has strongly urged Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to allow an independent investigation into the violence in troubled Rakhine state, as the Southeast Asian country faces increasing pressure to bring to justice the troops who have been accused of committing atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.
The top British diplomat met with embattled Suu Kyi in the country’s capital Naypyidaw on Sunday while on a four-day tour in Asia, a day after he visited a refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, where nearly 700,000 Rohingya have already took refuge following a campaign of killing, mass rape and arson launched by Myanmar’s army in Rakhine that has continued since August last year.
According to a Facebook post by Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, the pair “discussed in an open and friendly manner the latest developments in Rakhine State, including planning for the reception of returnees who fled.”
Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh have already sealed an accord to bring back refugees, but repatriation has yet to begin. However, a majority of the refugees does not still feel secure enough to venture to go back to their home country, where they have faced violent persecution and decades of discrimination at the hands of a state that has denied them citizenship.
Johnson, who later flew to Rakhine, wrote on Twitter that, in meeting with Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, he had stressed the “importance of (Myanmar) authorities in carrying out full & independent investigation into the violence in Rakhine” and the “urgent need to create the right conditions for Rohingya refugees to return to their homes” in the volatile state.
The UN has accused Myanmar’s security forces of driving the Muslim minority to take a perilous cross-border journey into Bangladesh in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Figures provided by the Doctors Without Borders show that at least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims lost their lives in the first month of violence.
The Asian country has staunchly rejected the charges and barred UN investigators from entering the conflict zone, a move that strained its relations with a host of Western allies. Fresh reports of the discovery of mass graves in Rakhine and the arrest of two Reuters journalists probing an alleged massacre have heightened pressure on Suu Kyi to condemn the military for the atrocities.
Suu Kyi, who is in a delicate power-sharing arrangement with the army, has already seen her reputation crumbled among the international community over her controversial handling of the Rohingya crisis.
Upon visiting the refugee camp in Bangladesh on Saturday, Johnson wrote on Twitter that he had met with Rohingya families there and heard “firsthand the persecution they have suffered”, strengthening his “commitment to work with international partners to improve their lives.”
Myanmar brands more than one million Rohingya Muslims in the country as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, refusing to accept them as citizens despite the fact that they have lived in the country for many generations.
The Rohingya are considered by the UN as the “most persecuted minority group in the world”.