US Vice President Mike Pence tells Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi the state violence, forcing more than 700,000 of country's Rohingya Muslims to flee for Bangladesh, was "without excuse." Suu Kyi rebuffs criticism.

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and US Vice President Mike Pence hold a bilateral meeting in Singapore, November 14, 2018.
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and US Vice President Mike Pence hold a bilateral meeting in Singapore, November 14, 2018. (Reuters)

US Vice President Mike Pence criticised Myanmar's military for the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in a meeting with the country's leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, and said he was keen to hear that those responsible for the violence would be held accountable.

"The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse," he told Suu Kyi in a brief meeting with the media before they went into private talks on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore. 

"I am anxious to hear the progress that you are making of holding those accountable who are responsible for the violence that displaced so many hundreds of thousands and created such suffering, including the loss of life," he added.

He said Washington was also keen to hear about progress in making it possible for the Rohingya to voluntarily return to the western Myanmar state of Rakhine from vast refugees camps in southern Bangladesh where they now live.

The United States has accused the military of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are widely reviled in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. UN-mandated investigators have accused the military of unleashing a campaign of killings, rape and arson with "genocidal intent".

Myanmar says its operations in Rakhine were a legitimate response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya insurgents in August last year.

Suu Kyi rebuffs criticism 

Suu Kyi told Pence only Myanmar was in a position to explain what happened and how it saw things. 

"Of course people have different points of view but the point is that you should exchange these views and try to understand each other better," she told Pence.

"In a way we can say that we understand our country better than any other country does and I'm sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your country better than anybody else," she added.

Stripped of Amnesty honour

Amnesty International this week withdrew its most prestigious human rights prize from Suu Kyi, accusing her of perpetuating human rights abuses by not speaking out about violence against the Rohingya.

Once hailed as a champion in the fight for democracy, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been stripped of a series of international honours over the Rohingya exodus.

Pence calls for free press

Pence also said that Washington wanted to see a free and democratic press in Myanmar, and the jailing of two journalists last year was "deeply troubling" for millions of Americans.

"In America, we believe in our democratic institutions and ideals, including a free and independent press," he said.

He did not mention by name Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists who were arrested in Yangon in December 2017. They were found guilty in September of breaching the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.

On November 5, lawyers for the two reporters lodged an appeal against their conviction.

At the time of their arrest in December, the journalists were working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers during an army crackdown in Rakhine state. 

Reuters published its investigation into the massacre on February 8.

Meanwhile, a White House official said Pence urged Suu Kyi directly to pardon the journalists "multiple times."

The official declined to comment on Suu Kyi's response in the closed-door meeting.

Neighbours to call for 'accountability'

Meanwhile, southeast Asian nations will call for those responsible for atrocities in Myanmar's Rakhine state to be held "fully accountable", according to a statement prepared for a regional summit, reflecting a stronger line being taken within the group.

The draft of the chairman's statement, which was reviewed by Reuters but may change before it is delivered by host Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the close of meetings of the 10-member ASEAN, said the situation in Rakhine State was a "matter of concern".

The Singapore government did not immediately comment on the draft statement.

UN report on mass killings

A UN report in August detailed mass killings and gang rapes with genocidal intent in a Myanmar military crackdown that began in 2017 and drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine into neighbouring Bangladesh. 

It called for its commander-in-chief and five generals to be prosecuted under international law.

Myanmar has denied most of the allegations in the report.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies