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Tillerson in Myanmar on Mission to Resolve Rohingya Crisis

  • VOA News

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, shakes hands with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after their press conference at the Foreign Ministry office in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov. 15, 2017.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on a visit to Myanmar, expressed concern over "credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by security forces and vigilantes" in Rakhine state but said "broad-based economic sanctions" against the country would not be advisable.

"I have a hard time seeing how that helps resolve this crisis," Tillerson said, speaking of what the United Nations has called "textbook ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya Muslim minority, adding that targeted sanctions against individuals "may very well be appropriate." He spoke alongside Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"We want to see Myanmar succeed," he said, announcing that the U.S. will provide an additional $47 million in aid to Rohingya refugees, bringing the total this year to $87 million.

Rohingya man Nur Ahmad, 70, his wife Lalu Bibi and their grand daughter Ashuka Bibi, 5, who crossed over to Bangladesh the previous day, wait for permission to go to the refugee camps after spending the night in the rice fields near Palong Khali, Banglade
Rohingya man Nur Ahmad, 70, his wife Lalu Bibi and their grand daughter Ashuka Bibi, 5, who crossed over to Bangladesh the previous day, wait for permission to go to the refugee camps after spending the night in the rice fields near Palong Khali, Banglade

Tillerson called scenes in the troubled Rakhine state "just horrific" and urged Myanmar to fulfill the recommendations of a report lead by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, which included creating a path to full citizenship for Rohingya.

Ann San Suu Kyi responded by thanking Tillerson for acknowledging the challenges of the situation, and for keeping an open mind.

"An open mind is very rare these days," she said.

Shortly after arriving in the capital of Naypyidaw on Wednesday, Tillerson met with army chief Min Aung Hlaing, whose forces have been accused of launching a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages in northwestern Rakhine state in response to attacks on Myanmar police outposts by Rohingya militant forces in August. The campaign led to a mass exodus of 600,000 Rohingyas into neighboring Bangladesh, who told human rights groups of serious atrocities committed by government security forces, including random shootings, rapes and villages being set ablaze.

FILE - Myanmar's General Min Aung Hlaing takes part during a parade to mark the 72nd Armed Forces Day in the capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2017.
FILE - Myanmar's General Min Aung Hlaing takes part during a parade to mark the 72nd Armed Forces Day in the capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2017.

Myanmar military officials said an internal investigation found no evidence its soldiers committed any such atrocities against the Rohingyas, and that troops only killed 376 Rohingya "terrorists" during battles with the insurgents. The report was denounced by the New York-based Human Rights Watch as an attempt by the military to "whitewash" its actions.

WATCH: HRW Report: Myanmar Security Forces Using Sexual Violence as Scare Tactic

Aung San Suu Kyi's reputation as a Nobel peace laureate and pro-democracy icon has been tarnished by criticism over a perceived slow response to the crisis. Because she shares power with the military, many Western governments have been reluctant to ostracize Aung San Suu Kyi during a fragile transition to democracy.

The Rohingya minority have long been denied citizenship and other rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which views them as immigrants from Bangladesh despite the fact that many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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