UK's top diplomat meets Myanmar's Suu Kyi on Rohingya crisis

In this image provided by Ministry of Information, Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, center left, speaks with Myanmar's Foreign Minster Aung San Suu Kyi, center right, during their meeting at Foreign Ministry Office in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (Ministry of Information via AP)
In this image provided by Ministry of Information, Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, speaks with Myanmar's Foreign Minster Aung San Suu Kyi during their meeting at Foreign Ministry Office in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (Ministry of Information via AP)
In this image provided by Ministry of Information, Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, right, is welcomed by Myanmar's Foreign Minster Aung San Suu Kyi prior to their meeting at Foreign Ministry Office in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (Ministry of Information via AP)

BANGKOK — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday to discuss the Southeast Asian nation's Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority and how almost 700,000 of them can be repatriated safely after fleeing to Bangladesh to escape violence perpetrated largely by Myanmar's military.

A statement from Myanmar's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Johnson and Suu Kyi discussed repatriation and developments in Rakhine, the western Myanmar state from where the Rohingya have fled over the past few months. Johnson arrived in Myanmar from Bangladesh, where he visited with Rohingya refugees.

"Discussed importance of Burmese authorities in carrying out full & independent investigation into the violence in #Rakhine & urgent need to create the right conditions for #Rohingya refugees to return to their homes in Rakhine," Johnson wrote on his Twitter account of his meeting with Suu Kyi, who also serves as foreign minister.

The meeting took place in Naypyidaw, Myanmar's capital.

The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the targets of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remained until last year's fresh violence, the scale of which has led to accusations that Myanmar's army carried out ethnic cleansing or even genocide. Myanmar's government has denied carrying out any large-scale or organized abuses against the Rohingya.

The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority. Most Rohingya are denied citizenship and its rights.

"I pay tribute to the hospitality and compassion shown by the government of Bangladesh, who are facing an enormous challenge in providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community," Johnson said on Saturday after visiting Rohingya refugees at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, on the border with Myanmar.

"While I welcome steps by both the Burmese and Bangladeshi governments towards ensuring that these people can return home, it is vital that the Rohingya refugees must be allowed to their homes in Rakhine voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, under international oversight, and when the conditions in Burma are right," he said. Myanmar was previously known as Burma.

On Friday, Myanmar's Catholic cardinal said it's likely that Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh won't ever go home, and that "the elements of ethnic cleansing" that drove them out are now apparent.

Two months after Pope Francis visited Myanmar and Bangladesh, Cardinal Charles Bo said that even though the Myanmar government was making plans to receive Rohingya back, many would opt to go elsewhere. He cited security fears, continued discrimination and economic necessity.

Bo, who was at a Vatican conference on human trafficking, defended Suu Kyi, who has come under severe criticism for inaction in curbing abuses of the Rohingya, saying she has no constitutional right to speak out against the military. While saying more proof was needed, Bo acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that "the elements of ethnic cleansing" against Rohingya existed.

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