Washington, September 8 (Agencies): The United States has acknowledged the burden on Bangladesh as it shelters hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
“I know it is a difficult situation for Bangladesh, as it is for any country, to absorb refugees,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a regular press briefing in Washington on Thursday.
She said the issue was something that “we care about deeply here”.
“We are deeply concerned by the troubling situation in Burma’s northern Rakhine State.”
“We, again, condemn deadly attacks on Burmese security forces, but join the international community in calling on those forces to prevent further violence and protect local populations in ways that are consistent with the rule of law and with full respect for human rights.
“We urge all in Burma, including in the Rakhine State, to avoid actions that exacerbate tensions there. We call on authorities to facilitate immediate access to affected communities that are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance,” spokesperson Nauert added.
Myanmar’s security forces have reportedly been attacking the Rohingya Muslims in a bid to push them out of the western state of Rakhine.
The attacks have intensified since Aug 25 when Rohingya Muslim insurgents allegedly launched armed attacks on police and military posts in Rakhine.
The Rohingya have been subject to communal violence by extremist Buddhists for years, forcing large groups of Muslims to take perilous journeys and seek refuge in Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries.
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has come under fire for failing to protect the country’s Muslim minority from persecution.
She claimed on Wednesday that “a huge iceberg of misinformation” was spreading about violence in western Myanmar.
The UN says more than 270,000 Myanmar nationals have crossed the border into Bangladesh since the beginning of the latest wave of violence in Rakhine State.
The State Department said the US was working through the United Nations and other international organisations to assist tens of thousands of civilians who have fled to southeastern Bangladesh since Aug 25.
“We are also communicating with Burma’s neighbors and other concerned international partners on efforts to end the violence and assist affected communities there,” said the spokesperson.
On being asked if the US was thinking about imposing any sanctions, Nauert said that was not the plan at the moment.
“We’re having diplomatic conversations at this point; any potential sanctions are just not something that I could comment on this time. Either – assuming that they might happen, or might not happen.”
She, however, said Myanmar is a difficult country to get information and particularly in this “complicated” situation.
“It is a difficult country to get around. It doesn’t have the roads and infrastructure that many other countries do have. So it’s a difficult terrain in order to be able to get the facts on the ground that are accurate.”
“That’s why we certainly call on that country to help facilitate journalists being able to come in, aid groups to be able to come in.
“We work with those organisations, the aid groups, very closely and carefully in order to try to best assess the situation. It’s a complicated situation. It’s a complicated country and the situation going on there. We don’t want to do anything that would inflame tensions. But we hope that we can get more solid information from the ground there,” the State Department spokesperson added.
However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not speak to any leader including Suu Kyi on the issue so far as what he was doing on North Korea and other global issues.
“We would like all sides to try to calm the tensions. What we’ve seen there has been very concerning to the US Government as we care about what is happening to the population there,” the spokesperson said.
“The U.S. Embassy is following the developments very closely. And let me just again mention that it’s very difficult to verify some of the reports in light of the security situation there,” Nauert said in response to questions.