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International relations

Tension builds between Suu Kyi and military over Myanmar refugee probe

General leads fight against including foreigner in Rohingya investigation

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar for refugee camps in Bangladesh since a military crackdown began in August 2017.   © Reuters

YANGON -- Myanmar's plan to have a foreigner participate in a probe into the refugee crisis inflicted on the minority Rohingya population has pitted Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation's de facto leader, against the country's military chief.

Myanmar will create an independent commission to investigate the "violation of human rights and related issues" in Rakhine State, Suu Kyi's government said on May 31. The United Nations estimates that 700,000 Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, have fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine since August 2017 as a result of the military's response to terror attacks conducted that month.

The three-person commission is to include one "international personality," meaning a foreign national. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of Myanmar's military, opposes that condition, according to government sources. The general instructed lawmakers tied to the armed forces, as well as members of the junta offshoot opposition party, to fight any proposal that includes a foreigner on the commission.

Military-backed lawmakers are castigating the commission as an affront to the citizenry, claiming that it ignores the sovereignty of the state. This echoes the opposition to the memorandum of understanding signed June 6 by the civilian government and two U.N. agencies: the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Development Program. The accord would allow U.N. personnel into Rakine, setting the stage for Rohingya refugees to return.

The military reportedly sought a stipulation in the agreement that state security forces accompany U.N. staffers to war-torn areas, but that effort failed.

The United Nations and some countries hold a bias that inhibits a "constructive" attitude toward a solution, Min Aung Hlaing said during a June 14 meeting with Christine Burgener, the U.N.'s special envoy to Myanmar.

Suu Kyi, who holds the title of state counselor, also faces pressure from the global community while forming the commission, with some calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate the human rights abuses. Criticism is mounting among Myanmar's public as well, with many residents viewing Rohingya as outsiders who entered the country during colonial times.

A government Facebook post announcing the memorandum with the U.N. drew many comments denouncing the agreement.

"This ignores the national sentiment," one poster declared.

"Why must we bring back those who left the country on their own accord?" another asked.

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