By Antoni Slodkowski
YANGON (Reuters) – The U.S. government’s aid chief said on Friday he believes in American aid engagement and development work in Myanmar, and the Rohingya crisis is an “impediment” to that work, not a reason to scale back assistance.
Mark Green, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is in Myanmar for a three-day visit that follows a trip to the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and Rohingya refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh.
Some Asian leaders have been wary about U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy and his commitment to the region, especially after he walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2016 in the name of protecting U.S. jobs.
“When challenges are there, I don’t believe they get better by America pulling back … I very much believe in what we do,” Green said in Myanmar’s main city of Yangon after meeting government leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital, Naypyitaw.
Green said he believed in American engagement in Myanmar and the importance of “development tools” and “humanitarian assistance”.
“We want to do more. We want to do good things, we want to do big things,” said Green.
On Thursday, Green told reporters in Dhaka the United States would provide $44 million in additional aid for the Rohingya and vulnerable populations in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
According to U.N. estimates, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State to escape a military crackdown since August, launched in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks.
Refugees have told of numerous incidents of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes, which the United States and United Nations have called “ethnic cleansing”.
Myanmar has denied nearly all of the allegations, saying its security forces have been waging a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against Rohingya “terrorists”.
“This is a country that I think has tremendous potential. There’s an impediment to that work – and that is the crisis that we’re talking about – but we believe that in the long-term future we can address this impediment,” said Green, referring to the Rohingya crisis.
He has called on Myanmar to end violence against the Rohingya and to provide humanitarian workers and media unhindered access in the country.
Green and other American officials on the trip also said the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar should be dignified, voluntary and safe and that their rights and security in Myanmar must be guaranteed.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski)