Sep 22, 6:30 AM EDT

US says it's troubled by Rohingya crisis, Myanmar response

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BANGKOK (AP) -- The top U.S. diplomat for Southeast Asia said America remains deeply troubled by the ongoing crisis and allegations of human rights abuses in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled government security operations in recent weeks.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy, speaking Friday in a conference call from Bangkok, said while the U.S. condemns August attacks by Muslim Rohingya militants, the response from Myanmar's security forces has been "disproportionate." He called on security forces to end the violence in Rakhine, stop vigilantism there, protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance in the area.

Murphy also called on the security forces to work with the civilian government to implement the recommendations of a committee headed by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

More than 420,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in less than a month, with most ending up in camps in the Bangladeshi district of Cox's Bazar, which already had hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who had fled prior rounds of violence in Myanmar.

The latest violence began when a Rohingya insurgent group launched deadly attacks on security posts Aug. 25, prompting Myanmar's military to launch "clearance operations" to root out the rebels. Those fleeing have described indiscriminate attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs. The government has blamed the Rohingya, saying they set fire to their own homes, but the U.N. and others accuse it of ethnic cleansing.

Rohingya have faced persecution and discrimination in majority-Buddhist Myanmar for decades and are denied citizenship, even though many families have lived there for generations. The government says there is no such ethnicity as Rohingya and that they are Bengalis who illegally migrated to Myanmar from Bangladesh.

Murphy said the U.S. ultimately wants Rohingya to be able to return to their homes in northern Rakhine state.

He said the U.S. welcomed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's decision to speak publicly about the problem this week. He also said the U.S. realizes that Suu Kyi has limited control over the security forces due to the nation's "flawed constitution," which allows the military to remain politically powerful and guarantees it control of key ministries including those related to security and defense.

There are many stakeholders responsible for solving the crisis in Rakhine, including Suu Kyi's civilian government, the military, local officials and the people on the ground, Murphy said.

He said the U.S. has warned Myanmar about potential repercussions it faces if it doesn't address the crisis, including greater instability in Rakhine, threats to the stability of its borders, the risk of attracting international terrorists, scaring off investment, and ultimately stunting its transition to democracy.

Murphy called on everyone in Myanmar to work to "lower the rhetoric and lower the tensions," including on social media, which he said has been used to spread hate speech and misinformation campaigns. He said everyone in Myanmar, which was ruled by a military junta until 2012, had suffered at one time or another.

"We appeal to all people to remember their own circumstances and show compassion," he said. "We hope they can come to the conclusion that no human being should suffer in this manner."

He acknowledged that the U.S. and others don't have access to all the facts on the ground in Rakhine and said Washington is pushing Myanmar to end its ban on media access to the region. Still it was clear what the impact of events in Rakhine had been, he said.

"The proportions of such human movements are staggering," Murphy said.

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