Mike Pence challenges Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi at ASEAN over Rohingya

Nov. 14 (UPI) — Vice President Mike Pence told Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday in an intense exchange before a bilateral meeting that violence against Rohingya Muslims was “without excuse.”

The comments came as representatives of the countries and others attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Singapore. Suu Kyi asked for the sideline meeting with Pence as she faced criticism from other countries over Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya.

Pence, though, was pointed about her country’s treatment of the Muslim minority there.

“This is a tragedy that has touched the hearts of millions of Americans,” Pence told Suu Kyi. “The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse.

“I’m anxious to hear about the progress that you’re making, holding those accountable who are responsible for the violence that displaced so many hundreds of thousands and created such suffering, including the loss of life.”

Pence also referenced the jailing of two journalists who were imprisoned a year ago after reporting on the deaths of 10 Muslim Rohingya men during a crackdown.

“In America, we believe in our democratic institutions and ideals, including a free and independent press,” Pence said. “And the arrest and jailing of two journalists last fall was deeply troubling to millions of Americans, and I look forward to speaking with you about the premium that we place on a free and independent press.”

Suu Kyi did not address either point during the public exchange, but said Myanmar leaders were better suited to judge its actions.

“People have different points of view but the point is that you should exchange those views and learn to understand each other better,” Suu Kyi said. “And, in a way, we can say that we understand our country better than any other country does. … So we are in a better position to explain to you what is happening and how we see things panning out.”

The United Nations has charged that there has been systematic violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar since August 2017, forcing thousands to flee their homes in the Rakhine state and seek refuge in Bangladesh. It said more than 200,000 Rohingya refugees sheltered in Bangladesh to escape the violence.

“The history of the Rohingya in Myanmar is one filled with repeated episodes of violence, flight and return,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement Tuesday. “[The international community must] speak with one voice to stop this cycle from repeating itself yet again.”

Suu Kyi, once hailed internationally after being held under house arrest for two decades for standing up against the former Myanmar military rulers before being freed, has been criticized by many of the same organizations in the Rohingya crisis.

Amnesty International on Sunday withdrew its highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, Suu Kyi received in 2009 because of her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

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