US Secretary of State Tillerson to visit Myanmar Nov 15, discuss Rohingya issue

Reuters | Published: November 03, 2017 11:13:54 | Updated: November 04, 2017 21:02:03

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures while speaking to staff members at the US Mission to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland October 26, 2017. Reuters

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Myanmar on Nov 15 to discuss the situation in Rakhine State that has forced over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee and take refuge in Bangladesh.

The State Department, in an announcement on Thursday, said Tillerson would accompany President Donald Trump on his travels to Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

"The Secretary will then travel to Naypyidaw, Burma, where on November 15, he will meet and consult with senior leaders and officials on actions to address the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State and US support for Burma’s democratic transition," the announcement reads.

Washington has worked hard to establish close ties with Myanmar's civilian-led government led by Nobel laureate and former dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in the face of competition from strategic rival China.

"The world can't just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area," Tillerson told Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank on Oct 18.

"We really hold the military leadership accountable for what's happening," Tillerson said and added the US was "extraordinarily concerned" by the situation.

A week ago, Tillerson spoke to Myanmar Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing over phone about US' concern over atrocities against the Rohingyas.

He urged Hlaing to support the Myanmar government in ending the violence and allowing the safe return of the ethnic minorities.

The State Department said at the time it was considering formally declaring the army crackdown on Rohingya Muslims to be ethnic cleansing.

Tillerson also urged the Myanmar military to facilitate humanitarian aid for displaced people, allow media access and cooperate with a UN investigation into allegations of human rights abuses, the State Department said.

The announcement on Tillerson's Myanmar visit comes at a time when a US delegation of senior officials is already visiting Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh on Thursday and Friday.

The US officials assured Dhaka of Washington’s support, both “financially and diplomatically,” for the “safe, sustainable and dignified” repatriation of the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals in a meeting with State Minister for Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam on Wednesday.


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