April 30, 2018 / 9:52 AM / 25 days ago

U.N. envoys meet with Myanmar leader over refugee crisis

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - Myanmar’s government leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with United Nations Security Council envoys on Monday over the plight of nearly 700,000 mainly Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh amid a military crackdown, pledging to investigate any credible accusations of abuse, said diplomats who attended the meeting.

United Nations Security Council envoys pose for a photograph with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after their meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Michelle Nichols

During the nearly hour-long meeting, Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, also noted Myanmar’s difficulties transitioning to rule of law after decades of military dictatorship, said diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Myanmar civilian government spokesman Zaw Htay was not immediately available for comment.

Myanmar National Security Advisor Thaung Tun said Suu Kyi has always insisted on the rule of law.

“She has always said nobody is above the law and we intend to implement that. She told the Security Council members ‘please bring to our notice any infringement of these laws and we will do whatever is necessary to take the action’,” he told Reuters on Monday after the meeting.

Earlier this month, Suu Kyi - marking two years since her party swept to power in a historic vote - said in a televised speech that Myanmar was “struggling to develop politics, society and economy.”

Suu Kyi’s civilian government has no control over the military. The council envoys also met behind closed doors for two hours with military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing in the country’s capital Naypyitaw.

Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts in Rakhine State in August last year sparked a military operation that Myanmar said was a legitimate response. Fleeing refugees have reported killings, rapes and arson on a large scale.

The Security Council envoys are due to travel to Rakhine on Tuesday.

‘WHATEVER IS NECESSARY’

Britain, the United States and others have denounced the military crackdown as ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has asked it to rule on whether it has jurisdiction over the deportations of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, a possible crime against humanity. Suu Kyi’s government expressed “serious concern” over the move.

The U.S. government is conducting an intensive examination of alleged atrocities against the Rohingya that could be used to prosecute Myanmar’s military for crimes against humanity, U.S. officials told Reuters.

Earlier on Monday the council envoys met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the country’s capital Dhaka, who asked them to press Myanmar to take back “their citizens.”

“That’s what we want,” Hasina told reporters. “They want to go back to their own country. So the Security Council can play a very pivotal role.”

U.N. SUPERVISED RETURN?

Hasina added that the refugees should return “under U.N. supervision where security and safety should be ensured”. When asked if U.N. supervision meant the deployment of peacekeepers, Hasina said: “Not exactly, well, that the U.N. will decide”.

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of the refugees within two years but differences between the two sides remain and implementation of the plan has been slow. 

“We are ready and willing but it will take two to tango,” Thaung Tun told Reuters. “I hope that (the Security Council) will see we are really serious on trying to find a solution for this.”

Suu Kyi’s office also said in a statement released on Monday after the meeting that cooperation was needed from Bangladesh on the repatriation of refugees.

The envoys visited camps on Sunday, where distraught refugees pleaded for help ahead of the coming monsoon season.

Kuwait’s U.N. Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi, one of the envoys, told Hasina the Security Council wanted to “send a clear strong message ... that we’re determined to end this humanitarian crisis”.

The Security Council asked Myanmar in November to ensure no “further excessive use of military force” and to allow “freedom of movement, equal access to basic services, and equal access to full citizenship for all”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has for years denied Rohingya citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as healthcare. Many in Myanmar regard Rohingya as illegal immigrants from mostly Muslim Bangladesh.

Rohingya refugees line the streets as United Nations Security Council convoy passes by, outside Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, April 29, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Fogarty

Additional Reporting by Thu Thu Aung and Yimou Lee in YANGON; Editing by Darren Schuettler and James Dalgleish

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