Washington DC, (TFC)— In a recent press briefing, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis touched on the arrest of journalists in Myanmar covering crimes against Rohingya Muslims. While off-camera, the renowned military official admitted he wasn’t aware of the arrests. Mattis then spared with reporters over the ongoing bloody conflict involving a government which has received US support.
Although the US Defense Secretary wasn’t aware of the arrests, he stated the US gets “concerned right up front”, whenever journalists are arrested. “As much of the time”, the former Marine Corps general continued, “I won’t say that”, an apparent joke which was followed by laughter, the transcript reads. An odd one, considering Mattis’ record during the 2003 Iraq invasion with press freedoms.
Several journalists have been arrested since the controversial conflict in Myanmar began. Two from Reuters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo–who those at the press conference most likely were referring to–are still in custody. According to BBC, whereas the Myanmar government accused them of illegally obtaining information, the Reuters company insists they were doing their jobs.
They’d reputedly met a police officer at a restaurant, who’d never met them before. After being given documents by the officer, they were quickly arrested by several others laying in wait. Least, that’s what loved ones told Reuters.
The duo was allowed to meet their loved ones for the first time in court and could face up to 14 years in prison. Burmese police haven’t been clear as to why the arrests were made, and simply say it’ll be resolved in court. Numerous other journalists have been arrested in recent weeks as well, from reporting on the conflict to flying drones.
“We don’t expect when we start talking to a military that has not had the training before that suddenly the first year or two there’s a traumatic change. Human rights inside any military is a cultural thing.” Mattis advised onlookers to not “overreact” if US training to the Myanmar government isn’t yet effective enough to protect human rights.
He emphasized the importance of training a military to be a force for the people, not just a hammer enjoying command. “It takes a while to make this thing work”, he said while stating the US is “alarmed” by what he acknowledges is Rohingya genocide. Shortly after that dialogue, however, Mattis changed the subject to Russia investigations.
Following a meeting by Amnesty International, wherein numerous human rights workers and doctors testified, the Myanmar military was accused of crimes against humanity. According to the Guardian, the US government then withdrew aid from Myanmar’s military units involved in the violence, including several reported massacres.
The conflict has severely strained relations between the Burmese government and the international community. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made numerous statements condemning the violence, which has created a massive refugee crisis. Hundreds of thousands have fled the clashes, concentrated in the Kokang region, near the Chinese border. That region was also critical to a massive, and longstanding oil pipeline project between the Burmese government, and China. It’s a mess of corresponding events, horrors, and tragedy’s coalescing to what end?