Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide made her first official trip to Asia in her new role this week. It landed her in the midst of the international outrage over how Myanmar, which has received enormous amounts of foreign aid from Norway for years, has treated its Rohingya minority.
Søreide had a clear message for Nobel Laureate and Myanmar’s political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has disappointed many Norwegians and the world over her failure to influence Myanmar’s military. “This is a situation that has gone from bad to worse,” Søreide told news bureau NTB just before leaving for Myanmar on Monday. Søreide noted how more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since late August, “and there’s almost a complete lack of humanitarian access, with a spiral of violence that seems to continue.”
Søreide, who was taking part in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Naypyidaw with other foreign ministers in Myanmar, promised to tell authorities in Myanmar that “the situation cannot continue.” Søreide stated in a press release earlier this month that Norway wants to continue to support Myanmar’s work towards democracy and economic development, “but will also make clear demands to the authorities of the country.” Norway is demanding full access for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya, an end to the violence and a “safe and dignified return” for refugees now living in squalid conditions in neighbouring Bangladesh.
On Tuesday Søreide met with Aung San Suu Kyi and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it was “a good meeting, where my message was the same it’s been all along, that the violence must stop and we must secure humanitarian access to all the people who have basic human needs. And we must ensure that refugees can safely return and be secure when they come back.”
Myanmar authorities have been accused of carrying out genocide against their Muslim minority. Asked how Aung San Suu Kyi responded to that, Søreide said “she sees absolutely wbat the international community wants to get across. We have seen some small steps in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go in order to get a solution.”
Søreide noted that Suu Kyi’s power is limited. “Everyone knows that it isn’t the democratically elected government and Aung San Suu Kyi herself who have command over the military,” Søreide told NRK. She stressed, however, that Suu Kyi has political responsibility. Many, including the former secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Suu Kyi in 1991, have been disappointed that the former democratic activist hasn’t done more or been able to do more to aid the Rohingya who have been persecuted for years.
“She is the chosen leader,” Søreide said, “and every leader must take responsibility for the situation in their country. My impression was that she responded positively to what I and many others have said in meetings with her, that the international community won’t turn its attention away from this.” Søreide said it’s now important for “the bigger countries” to have conversations with the military and contribute to reducing the violence.
“International pressure is increasing, and more players are trying to put pressure on the miitary,” Søreide told NRK. “I think that’s the right way to go.”