Suu Kyi heads to Rakhine to campaign

Myanmar's ethnic Rakhine people dancing to welcome opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during her campaign rally for the upcoming general election in Thandwe yesterday. Ms Suu Kyi has opted to skip state capital Sittwe and other more restive areas of
Myanmar's ethnic Rakhine people dancing to welcome opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during her campaign rally for the upcoming general election in Thandwe yesterday. Ms Suu Kyi has opted to skip state capital Sittwe and other more restive areas of Rakhine, where Buddhist hardliners have accused her of sympathising with local Muslims.PHOTO: REUTERS

Strong security force present as she risks rare brush with hostility

THANDWE (Myanmar) • Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi began her election campaign in volatile Rakhine state yesterday with a hundreds-strong security force, as she risks a rare brush with hostility in a region where Buddhist hardliners have accused her of sympathising with maligned local Muslims.

She was whisked out of Thandwe airport in a convoy, surrounded by supporters of her National League for Democracy (NLD), passing on its way around two dozen riot police gathered in the town.

Ms Suu Kyi has mostly received a hero's welcome in her criss-crossing of the former junta-run nation in pursuit of victory in the landmark Nov 8 polls.

However, she is bracing herself for a mixed reception in western Rakhine.

"Security will be very tight. We are going to use more than 1,000 people for security. We are worried and taking precautions because we do not want any problems," Mr Win Naing, chairman of the NLD in Thandwe, said earlier.

Concerned officials had "negotiated" for a peaceful trip, he said, adding that many local people would like to "welcome her warmly".

Ms Suu Kyi has opted to skirt state capital Sittwe and other more hair-trigger areas of Rakhine, which remains deeply scarred by two bouts of communal unrest between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims that erupted in 2012 and left more than 200 dead.

Most of the 140,000 people displaced as a result of the bloodshed and arson are Muslims. They remain trapped in miserable camps or have attempted to escape on rickety boats in a desperate exodus from Myanmar that has swelled in recent years.

While Ms Suu Kyi has faced international disappointment at her reluctance to speak out in support of the minority Rohingya, she is viewed with suspicion among Rakhine hardliners who see her as supportive of Muslims.

During a recent interview with India Today, the Nobel laureate defended her reticence, saying "flaming words of condemnation" was the wrong way to achieve reconciliation.

Tensions are spiking in the Buddhist-majority country as it heads towards the elections, which many hope will be the freest in generations for the former pariah state.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Suu Kyi heads to Rakhine to campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe