Rex Tillerson. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST
Rex Tillerson. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST

Yangon — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will stress the need to halt violence and stabilise Rakhine State when he meets the head of Myanmar’s military on Wednesday in a bid to ease the Rohingya refugee crisis, a senior state department official said.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a counterinsurgency clearance operation by Myanmar forces in Rakhine. A top UN official has called the operation a textbook case of "ethnic cleansing".

Attending an East Asia summit in Manila on Tuesday, Tillerson met Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose less than two-year-old civilian administration shares power with the military, but has no control over its generals. He will meet Suu Kyi again in the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw on Wednesday and hold separate talks with the head of the armed forces, Gen Min Aung Hlaing.


Asked what approach Tillerson would take with Myanmar’s army chief, the state department official told journalists that the emphasis would be on restoring peace in Rakhine.

"We are focusing on trying to stabilise areas in northern Rakhine so that people can return there, stopping the violence, making sure that the military would protect all populations in that area equally and that they conduct a credible investigation that leads to accountability for people who have perpetrated abuses," said the official, who declined to be identified.

The official said the consequences for the country if it failed to respond to the crisis with accountability could be part of the conversation with the military leader.

US senators in Washington are pressing for economic sanctions and travel restrictions targeting the Myanmar military and its business interests.

"The secretary will reiterate support for Myanmar’s democratic transition and urge the government to protect the local population and allow humanitarian and media access, [and] support for a credible investigation of abuses," the official said.

Accusations of organised mass rape and other crimes against humanity were levelled at the Myanmar military on Sunday by another senior UN official who had toured camps in Bangladesh where Rohingya refugees had taken shelter.

Pramila Patten, special representative of the UN secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, said she would raise accusations against the Myanmar military with the International Criminal Court in The Hague.


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