Security Council demands Burma end ‘excessive military force’ in Rakhine
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Security Council demands Burma end ‘excessive military force’ in Rakhine

THE United Nations Security Council has called upon the government of Burma (Myanmar) to end what it called “excessive military force” and intercommunal violence in Rakhine State, in a statement de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said it “regrets”.

On Sunday the Security Council condemned attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) against Burmese security forces on Aug 25 while also condemning subsequent violence and reported “human rights violations and abuses” perpetrated by the Tatmadaw army.

So-called “clearing operations” by the Burmese military have resulted in the exodus of more than 607,000 people into neighbouring Bangladesh in less than three months.

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United Nations Security Council meets in New York, United States on 23 September 2016. Source: Astrid Riecken/ CTBTO

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The 15-member Security Council’s statement noted reports of “systematic use of force and intimidation, killing of men, women, and children, sexual violence, and including the destruction and burning of homes and property,” demanding “no further excessive use of military force” in Rakhine.

Suu Kyi’s government was urged to “take all necessary measures to counter incitement to violence or hatred and restore peace and intercommunal harmony through dialogue, a comprehensive reconciliation process and by respecting the rule of law,” particularly emphasising the need to protect child and women’s rights.

The Security Council said it welcomed the memorandum of understanding between Burma and Bangladesh signed on Oct 24 to allow for the voluntary return of refugees in “conditions of safety and dignity” to their homes in Rakhine State.

Burma’s granting of access World Food Programme to operate in Rakhine State was also praised by the Council, however it expressed concern over the fact humanitarian access remained “severely limited” in the troubled region.

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Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at Sittwe airport after visiting Maungdaw in the state of Rakhine November 2, 2017. Source: Reuters

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The office of State Counsellor Suu Kyi responded by stating that the Council’s statement “ignores” the fact that the refugee crisis could be “resolved bilaterally, in an amicable matter, between the two neighbouring states”, warning that the statement could “seriously harm” the negotiations.

The Burmese government did not, however, address accusations of human rights abuses or the restriction of humanitarian aid agencies in its statement.

The SC also urged Burma to cooperate with all United Nations bodies, to allow media organisations “unfettered access” to the Rakhine and for the UN Chief to consider appointing a Special Adviser on Myanmar “as appropriate.”

Southeast Asia expert Michael Vatikiotis on Twitter said it was the “strongest UN statement on Myanmar in a decade.”

‘Shot as they fled’

Senior US diplomats, meanwhile, have described “shocking” conditions in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh after a visit last week.

In a press conference on Monday, acting Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw of the State Department described the “immense” scale of the Rohingya refugee crisis, stating that “the conditions are tough. People are suffering.”

“Many refugees told us, through tears, accounts of seeing their villages burned, their relatives killed in front of them. It was tough to take. Some recalled being shot as they fled,” said Henshaw.

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A Rohingya refugee boy holding a chicken walks towards his temporary shelter after returning from the market in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh November 8, 2017. Source: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

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“Despite the trauma, many expressed a strong desire to return to their homes in Burma, provided their safety, security, and rights could be guaranteed,” he added.

Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that State Department officials watched as some 2000 people arrived into Bangladesh over the course of a single day.

“There was a very, very small child, maybe a month old or so, who looked close to death; elderly men and women who had to be literally carried off the bus,” she said.

Henshaw praised the “generosity and commitment” of the Bangladeshi government and humanitarian organisations including the UNHCR, Red Cross and UNICEF.