In some of the strongest language the USA has used with Myanmar's top civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, Vice President Mike Pence urged her to free two Reuters journalists detained by the government and hold accountable those responsible for the slaughter and expulsion of Rohingya minorities from the country into neighboring Bangladesh.
Some families listed to return have fled, community leaders and refugees have told AFP, hiding in the hills where more than 720,000 Rohingya sought refuge from a Myanmar military crackdown launched from August previous year.
The White House official said Pence urged Suu Kyi directly to pardon the Reuters journalists "multiple times".
Asked about the issue at a news conference on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore, Mahathir said that as a former political prisoner, Suu Kyi should understand suffering.
Amnesty International said on Tuesday it had withdrawn its most prestigious human rights prize from Suu Kyi, accusing her of perpetuating human rights abuses by not speaking out about violence against the Rohingya.
Suu Kyi said only Myanmar was in a position to explain what happened and how it saw things, just as Americans could best understand what is happening there.
Then in a front-on challenge to Myanmar's civilian leader, Pence said he was "anxious to hear about the progress" being made to hold the perpetrators accountable. "And I'm sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your own country better than anybody else does".
Since Aug. 25, 2017, almost 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar's state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
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There is panic in the refugee camps, he said, after Myanmar and Bangladesh announced plans to start refugee repatriations very soon.
United Nations officials and global organizations have said such a return is unsafe due to ongoing violence and conditions that continue to force refugees to flee the country.
But Ardern said she did not detect any defence from Suu Kyi during their meeting.
Bangladesh says it will start repatriating refugees from an initial group of 2,260 from Thursday despite warnings the Rohingya face nearly certain persecution in Myanmar.
"We have met with the Rohingya families that UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] listed for the repatriation", Kalam told reporters.
Sources say that for many Rohingya whose names appeared on the initial list, the prospect of returning at this point - with no guarantees of security and scant details on how the process will be conducted - has sent them into hiding amidst the sprawling tent cities that have cropped up along the border. Human Rights Watch has called the commission the Myanmar government's "latest sham" in its attempt to avoid justice for the atrocities. But it didn't call for a halt to the repatriation plans.
That campaign targeted the Muslim-majority ethnic group in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, as well as other ethnic minorities in the area, and killed thousands.