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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US Deeply Concerned About Rohingya Crisis

By Nike Ching September 07, 2017

The United States is expressing deep concerns and says it is in close contact with Myanmar's government on the situation in that country's northwestern Rakhine State, where tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

"We have publicly and privately discussed this issue at the highest levels. We are also in touch with Burma's neighbors and other international partners," a spokesperson from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs told VOA on Wednesday. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

"We remain deeply concerned by sustained reports of significant violence and the impact on civilian populations, including the Rohingya community," he added.

The State Department, however, said it welcomed indications Myanmar's government is committed to providing access to humanitarian aid via the Red Cross.

Fleeing violence

The latest round of violence began August 25 when a group of Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution. Rakhine State is home to most of the Rohingya minority group.

Subsequent clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the latest exodus of Rohingya villagers to Bangladesh.

U.N. Refugee agency Asia spokeswoman Vivian Tan in Bangladesh told VOA Burmese that aid workers estimate there are now some 164,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh.

The United Nations says some 146,000 people have crossed the border into Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar district since August 25.

Officials say the U.N. World Food Program has provided tens of thousands of people with food, including high-nutrient porridge, to women and children who are arriving in Bangladesh hungry and malnourished. The agency says that it needs $11.3 million to support the influx of people, in addition to those already living in camps.

The United States had strongly condemned the August 25 deadly attacks on security posts by a group called Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and urged all ethnic groups in Myanmar to "work toward peace and stability."

Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized over her response to the violence. Many observers say she has played down reports of the Burmese military's brutal treatment of Rohingya civilians. Aung San Suu Kyi maintains there has been "a huge iceberg of misinformation" about the Rohingya crisis and violence in Rakhine following the August 25 insurgents attacks on security posts.

A series of Twitter photos that allegedly showed dead Rohingya people were later proved to be unrelated to the current violence, according to a statement posted on Facebook by Aung San Suu Kyi's office.

The Nobel Peace laureate said "fake information" was used to promote the interests of "terrorists," a word she used to describe ARSA insurgents.

International pressure

But human rights advocates are urging the Burmese government to stop the violence.

"The governments of the world have to press very hard on Aung San Suu Kyi and also the Burma military to stop the violence," Human Rights Watch's Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told VOA, adding independent monitors should be granted access to assess allegations of serious human rights violations committed by ethnic Rohingya refugees who have fled into Bangladesh.

Robertson urged the United States and the international community to provide more humanitarian relief and medical assistance to the refugees.

"So far we have seen very little comments from the Trump administration about the situation which is quite shocking," said Robertson, "There is a massive humanitarian crisis in a country which, until recently, the United States spent a great deal of time trying to understand them and work with the government on various developments and trade," Robertson said.

Abuses against and restrictions on members of the Rohingya population were cited as one of the leading human rights problems in Myanmar, according to State Department's 2016 Human Rights Report.

The Rohingya are one of Myanmar's many ethnic minorities in the Buddhist-majority nation. The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be economic migrants from Bangladesh, and has never granted them citizenship, even though most can show their families have been in the country for generations.

VOA's Burmese Service contributed to this report.

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