All eyes on Rohingya as ASEAN summit nears a close

Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech during a joint press announcement in Tokyo

Foreign leaders have criticized Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Pence's comments follow criticism from Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who said on Tuesday the Nobel laureate was trying to "defend the indefensible" in backing Myanmar's military over the brutal crackdown.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children, and women, fled Myanmar and crossed into neighboring Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.

In response, Aung San Suu Kyi said her government is "in a better position to explain to you what is happening and how we see things panning out".

"I look forward to speaking with you about the premium that we place on a free and independent press", said Pence, who is representing an administration with an unusually adversarial relationship with the news media.

Suu Kyi was brief in her remarks, saying each country knew their own situation best.

Bangladesh has vowed not to force anyone to return and it has asked the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to make sure those shortlisted to return really want to go back.

Myanmar insists the Rohingya are interlopers from Bangladesh despite many living for generations in western Rakhine state and has long denied them basic rights and liberties. It said some 130,000 people, including many Rohingya, remain internally displaced in central Rakhine.

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But Ardern said she did not detect any defence from Suu Kyi during their meeting.

Such actions could, and surely must also include, appropriate political, economic and military sanctions against Myanmar including use of economic and military force against the regime pursuant to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter should the regime continue to disregard the will of the global community as regards the safety and well-being of the Rohingya.

After the meeting, senior US administration officials said Pence and Suu Kyi had discussed the importance of having Rohingya return home, but only on a voluntary basis, with safety and dignity.

Freeland and Bibeau say repatriation must not be rushed and they're urging Myanmar's government to ensure refugees that do return are protected and their human rights are upheld.

"But the ultimate success of the initiative still depended on the "voluntariness" of the refugees' decision to return", the official said.

Bachelet stressed that "the human rights violations committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide". But it did not call for a halt to the repatriation plans.

According to an agreement between the two countries, 2,260 Rohingyas of 485 families from Jamtoli refugee shelter at Ukhia and Teknaf's Unchiprang shelter in Cox's Bazar will be repatriated in 15 days, with 150 per day.

Former MP for the military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya who now lives in exile, told The National that he feels as though history is repeating itself, referring to two previous waves of mass displacement.

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