February 10, 2018 / 3:50 PM / 7 days ago

Johnson says to raise detained Reuters reporters with Suu Kyi

KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh (Reuters) - Britain’s foreign minister said he would raise the case of two Reuters journalists detained in Myanmar with the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Sunday, referring to a report they authored on violence against minority Rohingya Muslims.

“It is vital the public knows what happened and the world knows what happened in Rakhine and who was responsible,” Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson told Reuters in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

“Talking just to some of my fellow foreign ministers from around the world, there is so much confusion still, and I think the role of journalism in setting the record straight is absolutely vital,” Johnson said.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state and crossed into southern Bangladesh since August, when attacks on security posts by insurgents triggered a military crackdown that the United Nations has said may amount to genocide.

A Reuters special report published this week laid out events leading up to the killing of 10 Rohingya men from Inn Din village in northern Rakhine state who were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbours and soldiers.

Asked about the evidence Reuters had uncovered, government spokesman Zaw Htay said on Thursday, before the report was published: “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.”

Detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo escorted by police, arrives for a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said.

The United Nations on Friday described the details of the Reuters report as “alarming” and joined the United States in calling for an investigation into the violence in the state.

The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted the arrest of two of the news agency’s reporters. Burmese citizens Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents.

Prosecutors are seeking to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, which dates back to the time of colonial British rule and carries a maximum 14-year prison sentence.

Referring to the Reuters report, Johnson said: “It’s an extremely brilliant piece of reporting, providing a very, very important testimonial which I will be bringing up tomorrow, you can be sure, with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and others. I’ll also be raising the case of the two detained Reuters journalists.”

“It’s clear this is ethnic cleansing,” Johnson said, adding that observers and monitors should be allowed into northern Rakhine so a base of evidence can be built.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has faced heavy international criticism for not taking a higher profile in responding to the strife in Rakhine state.

Reporting by Andrew Marshall; Writing by John ChalmersEditing by Philip McClellan

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