Japan’s Top Diplomat Takes Myanmar to Task Over Treatment of Rohingya

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed serious concern to his Myanmar counterpart Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday over the plight of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence by the military in northern Rakhine state.

During a meeting in the capital Naypyidaw, Kono urged Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees who fled to neighboring Bangladesh during a military crackdown and to allow humanitarian and media access to the region, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said.

Myanmar’s military launched a brutal campaign against the Rohingya in three townships in northern Rakhine after a Muslim militant group carried out deadly attacked on police outposts in August 2017.

The violence has driven about 655,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh where some have accused soldiers of committing random killings, rape, and arson in their villages.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono speaks at a news conference in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, Jan. 12, 2018.

“We have discussed with the Japanese foreign minister the development of Rakhine state, the repatriation of Muslim refugees, and possible areas of cooperation with the Japanese government to help stabilize the situation in Rakhine state,” Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as Myanmar’s de facto leader in her other capacity as state counselor, said during a joint news conference with Kono in the capital Naypyidaw.

Kono also asked Aung San Suu Kyi to implement the recommendations issued last year by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, a group led by former U.N chief Kofi Annan.

The commission called for reviews of the country’s Citizenship Law, under which the Rohingya are ineligible for citizenship, and an end to restrictions on the Muslim minority group to prevent further violence in the ethnically and religiously divided region.

Kono also met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, and will visit Rakhine state, the online journal The Irrawaddy said.

Millions pledged for Rohingya

Separately, Japan announced an emergency grant aid of 330 million yen (U.S. $3 million) to assist Rohingya refugees who voluntarily return to Myanmar when repatriations begin.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on Nov. 23, 2017, to repatriate Rohingya refugees who wish to return to Myanmar and who can prove prior residency in the country.

“We have decided to provide the aid in response to the agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to represent an international message of support so that the repatriation can be carried out promptly,” said Foreign Ministry official Shinobu Yamaguchi in a statement.

Myanmar has said that it will begin accepting the Rohingya refugees on Jan. 22, but the process could be delayed because Bangladesh has yet to send the completed repatriation forms to Myanmar.

During his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, Kono also said Japan, a major donor of development aid to Myanmar, will grant the country roughly U.S. $20 million more to improve humanitarian conditions and development in Rakhine state, the Associated Press reported.

“To achieve development in Rakhine state, it is critically important to solve the root causes of the problems facing all the people in Rakhine state,” he was quoted by The Irrawaddy as saying.

Military probe ‘encouraging’

Also during the news conference on Friday, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was encouraged by the Myanmar military’s investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya at a village in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township and its plan to take action against those who committed the crime.

The armed forces issued a rare admission on Wednesday that some of its troops had killed what it said were Muslim “terrorists” in September and buried their bodies in a mass grave in Inn Din village in Maungdaw township.

Maungdaw, along with neighboring Buithdaung and Rathedaung townships, was the epicenter of recent violence against the Rohingya.

“There were killings in Inn Din village, and it is a step forward that the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] has investigated and said that those responsible will be held accountable,” said Aung San Suu Kyi. “At last, a country has to assume responsibility for its own rule of law.”

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in Naypyidaw, Jan. 12, 2018. Credit: Reuters

A military investigation team began a probe of the killings after the remains of the bodies were unearthed on Dec. 19. It found that both security forces and ethnic Rakhine villagers were involved in the murders of the Rohingya men who the army says were affiliated with Muslim militants who carried out previous attacks in the state.

A statement issued by the military earlier this week said action would be taken against the villagers and soldiers who confessed to the murders as well as against officers to whom the soldiers reported.

Protest in Ramree

In a related development, about 500 protesters in Rakhine’s Ramree township dem