Myanmar leader finally breaks silence on Rohingya crisis

‘We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence and are committed to the restoration of peace, stability and rule of law throughout the state’, says leader 

19 September 2017, 9:45am
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi breaks her silence on the Myanmar Rohingya crisis (Photo: The Straits Times)
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi breaks her silence on the Myanmar Rohingya crisis (Photo: The Straits Times)
Aung San Suu Kyi has broken her silence on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, saying she does not “fear international scrutiny” and the government was still assessing allegations of atrocities.

In her first public address since the crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority was branded as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN, Aung San Suu Kyi said:

“I’m aware of the fact that the world’s attention is focused on the situation in Rakhine state. As a responsible member of the community of nations Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny.”

“We too are concerned. We want to find out what the real problems are. There have been allegations and counter-allegations. We have to listen to all of them. We have to make sure those allegations are based on solid evidence before we take action,” she said in the capital of Naypyidaw.

She went on to claim that the majority of Rohingya villages had in fact, not been affected by the violence and refrained to criticise the military – which has been accused by many of indiscriminate killings, terror and arson – but said it had been instead instructed to avoid “collateral damage” and to “adhere strictly to the code of conduct”.

Her claims serve as a contrast to the testimony of refugees, in neighbouring Bangladesh, who described a campaign of military attacks on civilians, while satellite imagery showed multiple Rohingya villages devastated by fires.

Since the violence broke out on 25 August, Aung San Suu Kyi has not spoken publicly, although during a phone call to the Turkish president, she was quoted as saying that “terrorists” were behind an “iceberg of misinformation” about the situation.

During her 30-minute televised speech, she said she was “deeply concerned” about the suffering of people caught up in the conflict.

“We are concerned to hear that numbers of Muslims are fleeing across the border to Bangladesh,” she said. “We want to find out why this exodus is happening.”

Aung San Suu Kyi mentioned the Rohingya by name just once, in reference to the armed militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Many in majority-Buddhist Myanmar – including several influential Islamophobic Buddhist monks – say the Rohingya are illegal ‘Bengali’ immigrants from Bangladesh.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been widely criticised – including by fellow Nobel laureates – for failing to speak out against violence targeting the long-oppressed Rohingya.

The de facto leader urged the world to see Myanmar as a whole and said it was “sad” that the international community was concentrated on one among the country’s many problems.

Her refusal to defend the Rohingya and condemn army operations that have caused nearly 400,000 to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh has perplexed many of her supporters across the globe who idolised the Oxford-educated laureate for her long struggle against military rule.

Following years of communal violence between persecuted Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists, the current wave of violence flared in August when security forces launched a huge counter-offensive in response to coordinated attacks by Rohingya militants.

The killings have displaced a further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus.

Aung San Suu Kyi cancelled a planned visit to the UN general assembly in New York and her spokesman Zaw Htay told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s speech that she would “tell the world the real truth”.