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Human rights Swiss ambassador defends Myanmar visit

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are thought to have fled Myanmar violence


A visit to Switzerland by Myanmar’s military top brass was necessary to confront the junta about human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims, according to the Swiss ambassador to the Asian country.

The official visit last month was condemned by Amnesty International, which said it was “unacceptable” to receive military leaders whilst tens of thousands of refugees were being forced to flee Myanmar. The European Council last month suspended further invitations to senior Myanmar officers.

Speaking to Swiss public television RTS, diplomat Paul Seger said it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to put Switzerland’s message across to top Myanmar officials, which included the army's number two, General Soe Win.

"The visit was not in any way an act of consent – quite the contrary," Seger said. "We want the humanitarian situation to improve and human rights to be respected, as does everyone else. We have exactly the same objectives as, for example, Amnesty International. But we obviously have a different role. It is our role to try to find solutions to avoid a repetition of such a tragedy.”

Seger added that it’s “not enough to just talk to the people we agree with”, and said that the Myanmar officials were confronted with an “open, critical dialogue”. 

Last month, Amnesty International issued a report of violence committed by Myanmar security forces towards Rohingya Muslims, in which it said that “hundreds of thousands of Rohingya women, men, and children have been the victims of a widespread and systematic attack, amounting to crimes against humanity.” 

Myanmar's government has said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents. But the United Nations has described the brutal attacks against Rohingya as "textbook ethnic cleansing."

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