UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar tried to reassure the world Wednesday about its handling of the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh and said it is committed to resolving sectarian tensions in the strife-hit region.
The Southeast Asian nation is facing accusations of ethnic cleansing and “savagery” by its security forces. More than 420,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces prompted a military crackdown and reprisals by majority Buddhists.
Vice President Henry Van Thio spoke to the U.N. General Assembly in the absence of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s civilian government who has been criticized for failing to protect the minority group.
Van Thio echoed Suu Kyi’s speech to diplomats in Myanmar on Tuesday, that “the great majority” of the Muslim population decided to remain in their villages and that the situation has improved. But he also voiced concern over reports that the numbers of Muslims crossing into Bangladesh “remain unabated.”
He said the government is committed to ensuring aid reaches those who need it without discrimination and implementing recommendations of a commission on resolving the tensions in Rakhine State led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
“Deep mistrust developed over decades has to be slowly chiseled away,” Van Thio said.
The conflict is overshadowing Myanmar’s historic shift from five decades of direct military rule after Suu Kyi’s elected government took office last year. She does not, however, control the military, which retains much of its power under the country’s constitution.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday lamented the “terrible savagery” of Myanmar’s security forces. He warned the violence against the Rohingya will “sows seeds of hatred” that could consume the region and threaten global peace.
“While we welcome Suu Kyi’s comments that returning refugees have nothing to fear, the U.S. renews our call on Burma’s security forces to end their violence immediately and support diplomatic efforts for a long-term solution,” Pence said.
He urged the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, to take “strong and swift action” and “to give hope and help to the Rohingya people in their hour of need.” He did not specify what kind of action he was seeking.
On Tuesday, Britain announced it had suspended aid to Myanmar’s military until the current situation was resolved. Some 24 U.S. lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to follow suit and suspend all U.S. training, which is already heavily restricted.
However, the U.S. announced Wednesday nearly $32 million in humanitarian aid to help Rohingya refugees. It was the Trump administration’s first major response to the mass exodus that has left Bangladesh struggling to cope.