Pence presses Myanmar, U.N. to end Rohingya violence

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Vice President Mike Pence at a meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday pressed Myanmar’s military to end its violent campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority and urged the U.N. Security Council to respond forcefully to the resulting humanitarian crisis in Southeast Asia.

“Unless this violence is stopped, which justice demands, it will only get worse, and it will sow seeds of hatred and chaos that may well consume the region for generations to come and threaten the peace of us all,” Pence told the U.N. Security Council.

Pence warned that the military’s “terrible savagery” — systematic destruction of Rohingya villages, killings of civilians, leading to an exodus of hundreds of thousands into neighboring Bangladesh — is “ultimately endangering the sovereignty and security of the entire region.”

Related slideshow: Rohingya flee to Bangladesh after Myanmar attacks >>>

The vice president’s remarks, the strongest language from Washington to date, betrayed growing U.S. impatience with Myanmar (formerly Burma) leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has drawn criticism for her relatively muted response.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to Suu Kyi, long revered at home and around the world as the country’s champion for democratic rule, and “urged the Burmese government and military to facilitate humanitarian aid and confront the allegations of human rights abuses,” Pence said.

“And while we welcome Suu Kyi’s comments that returning refugees have nothing to fear, the United States renews our call on Burma’s security forces to end their violence immediately and support diplomatic efforts for a long-term solution,” the vice president added.

Rohingya refugees get off a boat after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border through the Bay of Bengal on Sept. 11. (Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

President Trump wants “this Security Council and the United Nations to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis to an end and give hope and help to the Rohingya people in their hour of need,” Pence said.

The long-simmering humanitarian crisis in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar escalated sharply with a military crackdown on Aug. 25 in the northern Rakhine State in response to attacks by Rohingya militants. Suu Kyi is skipping the U.N. General Assembly, which brought Pence and Trump to New York.

On Sept. 14, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned against “unfounded criticism” aimed at Suu Kyi after discussing the crisis with her by telephone. McConnell, arguably Congress’s leading voice on Myanmar, noted that she does not control the military.

“Burma’s path to representative government is not certain, and it is not over, and attacking the single political leader who has worked to further democracy within Burma is likely to hinder that objective in the long run,” the senator said.

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