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US Lawmakers Urge Full Media, Aid Access to Myanmar

  • VOA News

FILE - A Myanmar border guard police officer takes pictures at the remains of a burned house in Tin May village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar.

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."

Representative Royce added that the Trump administration has promised $32 million in assistance — $28 million of which will go to Bangladesh, where roughly 500,000 Rohingya have fled from across the border since August.

The mass exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

Rohingya refugees wait for humanitarian aid to be distributed at the Kutupalang refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Oct. 2, 2017.
Rohingya refugees wait for humanitarian aid to be distributed at the Kutupalang refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Oct. 2, 2017.

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 constitutes ethnic cleansing.

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

David Steinberg, a professor at Georgetown University with extensive knowledge of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, told VOA there is "great prejudice" against the Muslim Rohingya.

"They always said, Go back to Bangladesh where you belong,'" Steinberg said of those pushing the Rohingya out of Myanmar. "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."

Dr. Tint Swe, who was elected to Myanmar's parliament in 1990, but now lives in the United States, disagreed with the use of the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe the situation in Myanmar.

Swe told VOA "most of the figures are fleeing for safety reasons or fear," so he doesn't think it fits the requirements of an ethnic cleansing.

"Ethnic cleansing means a deliberate act of wiping out or killing an entire ethnic people or peoples," he said. "Here, in this case, I don't believe it is ethnic cleansing."

Meanwhile, the United Nations said Thursday it will provide $434 million to help more than 1 million people in Bangladesh — including Rohingya refugees 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.

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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