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Thank you Mr President,
As we all know very well, Myanmar went through over half a century of military rule and isolation and I think that those of you who referred to the history and the present of the country and the role of the military are perfectly right. We have to look at the events of these weeks and we also have to look at the history of the country.
In the last few years the country has gone through impressive change, and yet the path towards an inclusive and diverse democracy is far from accomplished.
Let me start by stating clearly one thing: that the European Union has condemned the attacks of 25 August by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, as well as the violence that followed in Northern Rakhine State. And we believe that perpetrators must be brought to justice in line with the rule of law.
But let me also state as clearly as what I just stated: that we are very much aware and concerned about the excesses during the security operations conducted by Myanmar's security forces. This has led to a massive flow of refugees into Bangladesh – one of the most terrible refugee crises of our time. This situation is completely unacceptable and risks destabilising the wider region.
We have two immediate priorities, and I was glad to see that the UN Security Council discussed this issue last night. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, expressed similar priorities to the ones I will share with you in a moment.
First immediate priority: end the tensions, the violence, de-escalate. Violence must stop immediately. Human rights must be respected by all – but it is very clear, security forces face a special responsibility to refrain from any violence against unarmed civilians.
Second, - I think [MEP] Mr [Cristian Dan] Preda mentioned this - humanitarian aid should be brought to those in need, urgently. Here we have a European Union role to play that we are playing in a quite remarkable manner, and I would like here to thank Commissioner [for Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management, Christos] Stylianides for the dedication of his work that is also proving to be essential in this moment and in this case.
There are 350,000 vulnerable people in Rakhine: they need to be urgently reached by humanitarian aid and aid workers. For many of them, this is a matter of life and death. My colleague [Christos] Stylianides and I are working very closely together to address this issue and yesterday, upon our insistence - a lot of diplomatic work - the government communicated that the International [Committee of the] Red Cross will be able to fly in and aid 30,000 of them. Let me be clear: this is a welcome step but can only be the beginning of a path that we have to see continuing.
The Bangladeshi authorities have welcomed the many refugees who fled their homes and the international community, first of all – I believe – should not only praise but also support their efforts. As an immediate response to the current situation, the European Union has decided to increase our support to Bangladesh with another €3 million on top of the €12 million aid already provided to Myanmar and Bangladesh together.
These are the two immediate priorities: end the violence and bring in humanitarian aid. But then, we have another important task to carry out. We will continue to work with everyone involved to find lasting peace in Myanmar, to the benefit of the whole population, addressing the structural issues of Rakhine [State].
As you mentioned, this is not the first time we see this issue. This means that beyond the acute moment of crisis, we have responsibility to work on the political scene. There is no doubt that one of the underlying causes of instability in the region is the status of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and the underdevelopment of the Rakhine State. Addressing this situation is what we have always asked for in our political dialogue with Myanmar over the years, including at high-level meetings and in the EU-Myanmar Human Rights Dialogue. As you know, the last Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council, last March, has also been a European Union initiative.
The recommendations of the final report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, headed by Kofi Annan, are our point of reference. The Government of Myanmar has committed itself to take this report forward and I have personally discussed this issue with Aung San Suu Kyi [State Counsellor and Leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar] during her visit to Brussels just a few months ago. Recommendations include the issue of discrimination, poverty alleviation, the assurance of basic rights, equal access to education and social services, as well as the promotion of trust and reconciliation. The time to implement the Annan report is now because we are seeing what the people of Rakhine are facing and they cannot wait any longer. We are ready to support the implementation of these recommendations in all possible ways.
The Government of Myanmar should also continue its cooperation with the United Nations and make it stronger, including with UN Special Rapporteur [Yanghee Lee] and the UN Human Rights Council's Independent Fact-Finding Mission. This is also something we discussed with Aung San Suu Kyi. And just last week, once again, all of these points were raised directly with the Government of Myanmar by a European Union delegation headed by the EEAS [European External Action Service] and, as you can imagine, by our EU Delegation on a daily basis.
Our coordination stays strong with the UN, with personal contacts from my side with Secretary General [of the United Nations, António] Guterres and with my colleagues all over the world on this issue. And we will use the UN General Assembly Ministerial week for continuing intensive consultations and guarantee that the international community can stay united to face this issue.
Myanmar’s struggle for democracy has been a source of inspiration for many around the world and for me personally – and I believe for many of you in this room. The responsibility that the country’s leadership – the civilian but also the military - face today is immense, exactly because they have been – Aung San Suu Kyi in particular – a source of inspiration for the democratic world. They need to show that the democracy they fought so hard for can work for all the people of Myanmar, beyond ethnic, social and religious boundaries.
During Myanmar’s fight for democracy, the international community and Europe never left the people of Myanmar alone and we will not leave them alone now.