UK foreign minister to see centre of Rohingya crisis in Myanmar trip

Yangon: British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday for a busy two-day trip in which he will visit the epicentre of the Rohingya crisis and meet embattled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The trip comes a day after UN investigators released a damning and meticulous report outlining why senior Myanmar generals should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, who were driven from Rakhine state into Bangladesh last year.

Myanmar rejected the independent fact-finding mission’s report as one-sided. But global pressure is building on the country and the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court separately announced this week that she was opening a preliminary investigation.

Hunt’s is the most high-profile visit by a UK representative since his predecessor Boris Johnson came in February.

“I’m in Burma this week to see first-hand some of the issues around the humanitarian crisis faced by the Rohingya people,” he said in a video posted on his Twitter account, using the Buddhist-majority country’s former name.

The foreign secretary (minister) began with a stop-off at a small Yangon museum honouring political prisoners both past and present before a visit to the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda.

He asked about censorship and military influence but did not take questions from the media.

On Thursday he will take an army-chaperoned helicopter trip to northern Rakhine state, where the brutal military crackdown which began in August 2015 drove out more than 700,000 Rohingya.

He will then head to the capital Naypyidaw for meetings with Suu Kyi, whose government took power in 2016 in a much-celebrated transition to democracy after decades of military rule.

But the Nobel laureate’s reputation quickly crumbled for her failure to speak up for the Rohingya.

Under the junta Myanmar jailed thousands of political prisoners. But while many were released as the country opened up to the outside world more than 20 are currently behind bars, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The group says this includes two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were jailed earlier this month for seven years each after they exposed a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys during the military crackdown.

Myanmar says they broke the official secrets act but Reuters and press freedom advocates have described the trial as little more than an attempt to punish reporting on Rakhine.

“I hope that he (Hunt) can put pressure on the government and military groups to move forward our democratisation and peace process,” said AAPP’s Kyaw Soe Win.

Suu Kyi is in a power-sharing agreement with the military, which controls a quarter of parliament’s seats and three ministries.

UN investigators stopped short of calling for her to face prosecution but condemned civilian authorities for “acts and omissions” that “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes”.

Hunt has promised to raise both the Rohingya crisis and the case of the Reuters journalists in his meeting with Suu Kyi.

The UN has called for Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other top generals to be investigated for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for overseeing operations in Rakhine.