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Actions need to be taken urgently: US official urges Myanmar start working to solve Rohingya crisis

Top US official urges Myanmar to lower the rhetoric, start doing the hard work to solve Rohingya issue

YANGON/DHAKA: The US wants Myanmar to take urgent action to end the violence in Rakhine state, where a military offensive has created a crisis that could jeopardise its economic and political transition, an official said yesterday.

Bangladesh and aid groups are struggling to help 422,000 Rohingya Muslims who have arrived in Bangladesh since Aug 25, when attacks by Rohingya militants triggered a Myanmar crackdown that the UN has branded ethnic cleansing.

Aid workers also fear a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Rakhine state, though Myanmar has restricted access to external agencies.

"We think, urgently, actions need to be taken to stop this violence and facilitate humanitarian assistance, lower the rhetoric, lower the tension and... start doing the hard work to solve the longer-standing problems," US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy told reporters.

Mr Murphy, who spent three days in Myanmar this week, said there were "many points of responsibility" and he wanted to see everyone follow through on commitments that Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi made to uphold rights and the law in an address to the nation on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

"There is the elected government, there are the security forces which have authorities that don't fall under the purview of the civilian-elected government, there are local leaders and there is the broader population, among which there are many emotions and tensions," he said.

"Significant responsibility sits with security authorities and local officials in Rakhine state, and we are looking for their cooperation to make these commitments a reality," Mr Murphy told reporters on a conference call from Bangkok. He said the military's response to the August attacks had been disproportionate and Myanmar risked a terrorist backlash.

A UN official said an estimated US$200 million (S$270 million) would be needed to help the refugees in Bangladesh for six months. "It has not been confirmed, but it is a ballpark figure," Mr Robert D. Watkins, UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh, told Reuters in Dhaka.

Mr Watkins said the situation has not stabilised, so it is difficult to say how many people to plan for or how long.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's Prime Minister proposed creating UN-supervised safe zones inside Myanmar to protect Rohingya Muslims.

"These people must be able to return to their homeland in safety, security and dignity," Ms Sheikh Hasina told the UN General Assembly.

Myanmar must stop the violence and "ethnic cleansing", allow a UN fact-finding mission, ensure the return of refugees and abide by a report that recommends citizenship for the Rohingya, Ms Hasina added.

The creation of such "safe areas" would require the approval of the Security Council where China, a supporter of Myanmar's former junta, has veto power.

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