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US Lawmakers Urge Action on Myanmar

  • VOA News

A Myanmar police officer stands watch as journalists arrive in the village of Shwe Zar, in the northern part of Myanmar's Rakhine state, Sept. 6, 2017.

U.S. lawmakers are calling for "full access" by journalists and aid workers to Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state.

"It is very important that we get reporters on the ground, that we get USAID on the ground," Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said Thursday. "Because as long as that presence is there, it’s a check to these kinds of atrocities," he said, referring to the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

Royce added that the Trump administration has promised $32 million in assistance - $28 million of which will go to Bangladesh, where roughly half a million Rohingya have fled from across the border since late August.

Patrick Murphy, a senior U.S. official for Southeast Asia, says the U.S. has urged Myanmar's civilian and military officials to take action to stop the violence, and representative Eliot Engel, the committee's top-ranking Democrat, said the U.S. should consider imposing targeted sanctions on Myanmar's military.

The lawmakers also echoed comments by the U.N. Human Rights commissioner, saying that the violence against Rohingyas which has led to their mass exodus constitutes ethnic cleansing.

“Just for the record, myself and Mr. Engel, this committee – we identity this as full-fledged ethnic cleansing," Representative Royce said.

When asked why he doesn't use the term ethnic cleansing, Murphy called the situation in Myanmar a "human tragedy."

Bangladeshi soldiers stand guard as Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait to receive aid at a refugee camp near Balukhali, Sept. 28, 2017.
Bangladeshi soldiers stand guard as Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait to receive aid at a refugee camp near Balukhali, Sept. 28, 2017.

David Steinberg, a distinguished professor emeritus of Asian studies at the School of Foreign Service and who has had extensive experience in Myanmar, disagreed.

“Certainly there is a great prejudice against the people called Rohingya and they want them out of the country," Steinberg said. "They always said, ‘Go back to Bangladesh where you belong.’ People have said that many, many times in Myanmar. So that term ethnic cleansing I don’t think is too wrong. I think that is very clear.

“When you have over a half a million people, maybe half of the Rohingya, have left Myanmar so I think … what everybody wants is a very humanitarian settlement of the problem so that the people are not as bad off as they are now. We all want that. The question is how best to get that," he continued.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said Thursday that its response plan to the crisis had been revised to $434 million to help over one million people in Bangladesh - including over 500,000 Rohingya who have arrived since August 25, Rohingya refugees who arrived earlier, and local host communities.

After the Myanmar army began a crackdown in October last year to “flush out Rohingya militants” following a deadly attack on a police outpost, charges of rapes, killings and arson were leveled against the soldiers in the Rohingya village but outside media have been restricted in their access to the area.

As a result, the Rohingya leaders claim the true story of the crackdown has not been getting out to the world.

The Myanmar government has taken groups of reporters to the region in recent weeks and has denied charges of systematic abuses against the Rohingya. But because of the security situation, reporters say they are not able to freely move about the area and gather information.

VOA's Burmese service contributed to this report.

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