Mike Pence, the US Vice President, confronted Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday over the "violence and persecution" of her country’s Rohingya Muslims.
Mr Pence, who was attending a Singapore summit in Donald Trump’s place, became the most high ranking US official to confront Ms Suu Kyi over the crisis, telling her that America was "anxious to hear the progress" she was making on the crisis.
It came as Bangladesh appeared to quietly drop plans to repatriate some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees following international condemnation of the policy.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, initially said the country planned to return 150 refugees on Thursday despite aid agencies warning that their lives would be at "serious risk".
He said the process would involve Bangladesh handing the refugees, the first among a preliminary 2,260 currently in vast camps in southeastern Bangladesh, over to Myanmar at a transit point on the border between the two countries.
However the plans were dropped after it emerged none of the refugees on the repatriation list have so far volunteered to return to Burma.
More than 720,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya fled Burma after a military crackdown was launched in August last year, joining some 300,000 already in Bangladesh.
The US has accused the military of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Rohingya, who are widely reviled in Buddhist-majority Burma.
The Burmese army has claimed its forces have carried out legitimate counterinsurgency operations in Rakhine state, but UN-mandated investigators claim it was a campaign of killings, rape and arson with "genocidal intent".
"The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse," Mr Pence told Ms Suu Kyi in public remarks at the Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore.
"I am anxious to hear the progress that you are making of holding those accountable who are responsible for the violence that displaced so many hundreds of thousands and created such suffering, including the loss of life," he added.
Mr Pence also pressed Ms Suu Kyi, Burma’s de facto leader, to pardon two Reuters journalists who were arrested last December while working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers.
Ms Suu Kyi, who sat stony-faced next to Mr Pence as he spoke, gave a curt response, telling the Vice President there were "different points of view" on the crisis.
"In a way we can say that we understand our country better than any other country does and I’m sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your country better than anybody else," she added.
Once hailed as a champion in the fight for democracy, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been stripped of a series of international honours over the Rohingya exodus.
Plans for repatriation had caused widespread alarm among the Rohingya community in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh insists only those who volunteer will be returned, but UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that many refugees are panicking at the prospect of being sent back against their will.
At a glance | Myanmar’s Rohingya people
Many of those slated to be repatriated are reported to have gone into hiding within the camps at Cox’s Bazar, the border district hosting a small refugee city perched on hillsides. At least one man attempted suicide after being told he was on a list of refugees to be returned.
Rohingya community leaders said that an increase in the number of Bangladeshi soldiers at the camps in recent days was stoking anxiety.
"With an almost complete lack of accountability – indeed with ongoing violations – returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades," Ms Bachelet said.
Amnesty International on Wednesday called on Bangladeshi and Burmese authorities to "immediately halt" their repatriation plans, saying it was a "reckless move which puts lives at risk".
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