UN chief meets Myanmar's Suu Kyi on Rohingya crisis

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Posted at Nov 14 2017 09:28 AM | Updated as of Nov 14 2017 05:54 PM

Myanmar's State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi attends the 19th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Republic of Korea Summit on the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related summits at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Manila, Philippines November 13, 2017. Noel Celis, Reuters

MANILA (UPDATE) - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to allow Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to return when they met Tuesday at a summit in the Philippines, his office said.

The meeting added to global pressure on Suu Kyi to take action to end the crisis for the Muslim minority, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson due Tuesday also to hold talks with her in Manila then travel to Myanmar.

"The Secretary-General highlighted that strengthened efforts to ensure humanitarian access, safe, dignified, voluntary and sustained returns, as well as true reconciliation between communities, would be essential," a UN statement said, summarizing comments to Suu Kyi.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in two and a half months.

The crisis erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts in Myanmar's Rakhine state, triggering a military crackdown that saw hundreds of villages reduced to ashes and sparked a massive exodus.

Authorities have blocked independent access to northern Rakhine.

But journalists and UN officials have collected reams of testimony from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh describing soldiers and Buddhist mobs committing murder, rape and mass arson.

Following its first official investigation into the crisis, the army published a report this week in which it cleared itself of any abuses.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in two and a half months, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis. AFP Photo

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, a former democracy activist, has been lambasted by rights groups for failing to speak up for the Rohingya or condemn festering anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

But she lacks control over the powerful military, which ruled the country for decades until her party came to power following 2015 elections.

Guterres and Suu Kyi met in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to his office. In a summit on Monday night with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, Guterres also voiced concern about the Rohingya.

He said the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya was a "worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy," according to the UN statement.

He described the situation as a potential source of instability in the region, as well as radicalization.

Suu Kyi also had an "extended conversation" with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Canada Summit here.

"I’ve had an extended conversation with the state counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi about the plight of the Muslim refugees in the Rakhine state," Trudeau said in a press conference.

"We are always looking at not how we can sort of shake our fingers and yell at people but how we can help, how we can move forward in a way that reduces violence, that emphasizes the rule of law, that ensures protection for all citizens," he said.

ASEAN member countries have sent humanitarian missions to the Rakhine state and are finding ways to send more aid after Myanmar Foreign Minister U Kyaw Tin "explicitly" asked help from his counterparts from the regional bloc, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters over the weekend.

"We will continue (to send humanitarian missions to Myanmar), and we are still discussing kung paano pa mai-increase 'yun... We prefer to handle it internally, with ASEAN on top of it," Cayetano said.

"We're balancing ASEAN from not interfering in domestic affairs, and on the other hand to keep us relevant and also not to affect the security of other states in ASEAN," he added. -- with Agence France-Presse