US Vice President Mike Pence told Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday that the treatment of her country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim population was inexcusable.
“The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes which resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh is without excuse,” Pence told Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Singapore. “I’m anxious to hear about the progress you’re making in holding those accountable who are responsible.”
It comes as officials in Myanmar and Bangladesh get ready to repatriate more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last year.
The Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, has been accused of using rape, murder and arson in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing that drove hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they languish in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp. The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied that its soldiers deliberately attacked unarmed Rohingya.
Pence also brought up the jailing of two Reuters reporters who were sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty in September of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act.
Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating military atrocities in Rakhine state, including the massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys.
“The arrest and jailing of two journalists last fall was deeply troubling to millions of Americans and I look forward to speaking to you about the premium that we place on a free and independent press,” he said.
Suu Kyi responded by saying she understood the situation better than her country’s critics.
“We are in a better position to explain to you what is happening,” she said.s
Pence has repeatedly spoken out against the persecution of the Rohingya, calling on the UN Security Council in September “to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis” to an end.
He has also petitioned for the release of the two Reuters journalists, writing on Twitter that the pair should “be commended – not imprisoned – for their work exposing human rights violations & mass killings.”
Suu Kyi has come under fierce criticism for her handling of the crisis in Rakhine state and for failing to safeguard human rights in the country.
On Tuesday, the UK-based rights group Amnesty International stripped Suu Kyi of its highest honor, the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, for what the organization said was the “shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for.”