Tillerson to visit Myanmar for talks on 'humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State'

Tillerson to visit Myanmar for talks on 'humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State'

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will go to Myanmar later this month, the State Department said, becoming the most senior US official to visit since the start of the Rohingya crisis.

Tillerson's spokeswoman said he would visit Naypyidaw on Wednesday (Nov 15) for talks on the "humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State and US support for Burma's democratic transition."

The secretary's visit will come after he accompanies President Donald Trump on a five-nation Asian tour that will include a stop in Beijing and at the US-ASEAN summit in Manila.

Myanmar's Rakhine state was plunged into violence in August, when troops cracking down on a local insurgency embarked on the alleged slaughter and expulsion of the Rohingya minority.

Since then, more than 600,000 people have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, bringing with them accounts of rape, torture and arson by the military and pro-government militia.

United Nations officials say the crackdown is likely tantamount to ethnic cleansing and pressure has mounted on Myanmar to protect the Rohingya and allow people to return home.

The United States, while condemning the violence, has been careful to say it holds the military responsible, not Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government.

Tillerson has been pressing her to speak up, and for the powerful military to allow diplomatic observers and humanitarian workers to operate freely within northern Rakhine.

Myanmar has been transitioning from rule by military junta to elected civilian leadership since elections were held under a new constitution in 2010.

But the military still wields broad powers in security matters and crisis-hot regions, and as "state counsellor", a role akin to a prime minister, Suu Kyi's power is limited.

Observers say Suu Kyi chose not to criticize the army in fear of a backlash from powerful generals and their rich friends.

But there is little for the Nobel laureate to gain politically from supporting the Muslim Rohingya, who enjoy little sympathy among the broader Buddhist-majority population.

Tillerson will accompany President Trump from Sunday (Nov 5) on his travels to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. 

Source: AFP/am