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McConnell: Myanmar Must 'Assume Responsibility' for the Rohingya

McConnell says the Rohingya are the responsibility of Myanmar. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday the government of Myanmar needs to address the human-rights crisis involving the Rohingya.  

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said he and others want the country, also called Burma, to successfully complete an open election process, free of favoritism by the state-run media and with broad access to voting. McConnell said he met recently with the speaker of the country's parliament, Shwe Mann, and expressed his concerns directly about a variety of issues, including the plight of Rohingya Muslims, a minority group of which many members have fled to boats.  

"There's the need for the government to do all it can to protect and assume responsibility for members of a long-suffering religious minority group, the Rohingya, thousands of whom have been forced to take to the high seas on dangerous makeshift vessels to escape persecution," the Kentucky Republican said. "There’s the longstanding need for the government to continue its work with other ethnic minorities toward a permanent peace agreement that calls for political settlements, in order to end a conflict as old as the modern Burmese state itself."  

Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard recently told reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia, that "Rohingyas need to be treated as citizens of Burma," Reuters reported .  

McConnell speaks regularly about challenges and signs of progress in Myanmar, an issue that he's followed since long before becoming his party's leader. Challenges for 2015 include ongoing debates about overhauling the constitution and the upcoming elections in the country.  

"If the Burmese government gets this right — if it ensures a transparent, inclusive, and credible election, with results accepted by the competing parties — that would go a long way toward reassuring Burma’s friends around the globe that it remains committed to political reform," the Kentucky Republican said. "But if we end up with an election not accepted by the Burmese people as reflecting their will, it will make further normalization of relations — at least as it concerns the legislative branch of our government — much more difficult."  

After McConnell's floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised his counterpart for his work on the foreign-policy issue, which has included regular statements, meetings and trips, as well as behind-the-scenes efforts.  

"I've watched over the last decade Sen. McConnell focusing attention on Burma," the Nevada Democrat said. "It's remarkable the good he's done for that country. His vigilance in watching literally every move that government has made has been good for that country and I think good for the world, and I admire and appreciate the work he's done. There’s not been a watchdog over any country that I'm aware of that has been more intense than the senior senator from Kentucky keeping an eye on what goes on in Burma. And I appreciate his remarks today in that regard."  

McConnell's longstanding efforts with respect to Myanmar have also drawn praise  from the Obama administration.  

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