Last Updated: 2018-06-13
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NEW YORK, June 13 (NNN-Bernama) – While describing the situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar as critical, former US ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell, warned that it could become “disastrous” with the advent of the monsoon which can play havoc on the Rohingya in their temporary settlements.

“Myanmar is a complex place … though it is a cliché to say that,” he remarked, while urging the international community to come and speak out about the treatment of the Rohingya community in Myanmar.

Mitchell, who was the US ambassador to Myanmar from 2012 to 2016, was speaking at the Asia Society in New York on Monday in a panel discussion which included Debra Eisenman, the managing director of the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), and was moderated by Tom Nagorski, the executive vice president and a former eight-time Emmy award-winning journalist.

While Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues to command respect among the people despite the international outcry over her silence over the treatment of the Rohingya community within Myanmar, Mitchell pointed out that Rohingya has become the “single issue” for that country. It was no longer just about the US relations with Myanmar but the Rohingya issue which dominated.

“Aung San Suu Kyi is not an ordinary politician and she should have spoken more about the Rohingya. She may have done more although she has not said anything about it,” Mitchell said.

He said she may possibly have concerns about the military or she may not know how to voice her views in an environment that is controlled by the military which still retains its power base in the country.

There had been considerable hype in the US media and business circles when Myanmar’s first free elections were held and there was talk what was described as Myanmar’s “path to prosperity”.

But now, as Mitchell said, we get “manic depression” about the country.

The ambassador said that his job was not to be optimistic or pessimistic but to be realistic.

Myanmar badly needs infrastructure, including water and electricity supply.

Indeed, US companies, which were inclined to or had already done investments in Myanmar, were being asked why they were working in a country that abuses human rights.

Asked if there would be a resumption of sanctions against Myanmar, Mitchell said that US Congress does not “talk about economic sanctions” but he added that there could be specific military sanctions though sanctions are not going to be passed in the US Congress.

Debra Eisenman, who has spent the past seven years tracking developments in Myanmar and has recently launched a paper called “Reconciling Expectations with Reality in a Transitioning Myanmar”, in which she maintains that while Suu Kyi’s has been in a de facto leadership role for two years, real control of the country remains in the military’s hands.

Many experts on Myanmar interpret this as a sign that Suu Kyi is unable to do much, even if she wants to, in regard to the Rohingya issue, and this also explains her silence.

Eisenman, who visited Myanmar in April 2018 and held consultations with policy-makers, said in the paper that Suu Kyi’s focus on the country’s internal peace process has not thus far borne the fruit that ethnic armed organizations and the civilian government had hoped for.

Her paper identifies five critical challenges Myanmar faces today: the multifaceted and violent ethnic conflict, largely created or exacerbated by Myanmar’s military, which is undermining the peace process and causing the tragic plight of the Rohingya; the poor and uneven government communications, causing both “fake news” and speculation to proliferate; slowed economic reform and development; a flawed constitution, unchecked military power, and the conflation of the rule of law; and an unbalanced geopolitical and geostrategic power and risk.

Eisenman argued that with these challenges, particularly the persecution of the Rohingya, some in the US and across the West look at Myanmar, and at Aung San Suu Kyi, in particular, as having “squandered the goodwill of the international community”.

“However, taking such a narrow view of Myanmar, however, helps no one – including the Rohingya,” she contends, urging the international community to “double down on helping Myanmar find a positive way forward”.

Eisenman also provided some “good news” about Myanmar whose economy had grown by seven per cent, and last year was the “best year for agricultural exports”.

However, such news was not being properly communicated by the Myanmar government which, anyway, “does not communicate much”.