Tillerson speaks to Suu Kyi on Myanmar refugee crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone Tuesday with Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi about the Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis, the State Department said, as international condemnation intensified over the plight of the minority group.

It was believed to be the first time Tillerson has spoken to Suu Kyi since he took office in February.

The top U.S. diplomat is currently at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, where governments have strongly criticized Myanmar’s conduct. Suu Kyi, who serves as state counsellor and foreign minister, has skipped the gathering.

More than 500,000 people — roughly half the Rohingya population in Myanmar — have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the past year. Most of them have fled across the border in the last three weeks, since Myanmar’s military began a crackdown in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks. Security forces and allied mobs have burned down thousands of Rohingya homes in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Top U.N. officials have described the current crackdown as ethnic cleansing.

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State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that in Tuesday’s call, Tillerson welcomed the Myanmar government’s commitment to end the violence in Rakhine State and to allow those displaced by the violence to return home. He also urged the government and military to facilitate humanitarian aid for displaced people in the affected areas, and to address deeply troubling allegations of human rights abuses and violations.

In a speech in Myanmar on Tuesday, Suu Kyi said her country does not fear international scrutiny and invited diplomats to visit some affected areas. She also said that those who fled to Bangladesh would be allowed to return if they passed a “verification” process.

She did not address the allegation of ethnic cleansing. She said that while many villages were destroyed, more than half were still intact.

The conflict is overshadowing Myanmar’s historic shift from five decades of direct military rule following elections and the installation of Suu Kyi’s government last year. That transition was a key foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration. President Donald Trump has been less attentive to the…

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