JOHANNESBURG • Retired South African cleric and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has urged Myanmar leader and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene to help Rohingya Muslims fleeing her country.
Western critics have accused Ms Suu Kyi of not speaking out for the Rohingya, who have been fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh following an army counter-offensive against militant attacks.
Mr Tutu said in an open letter on Thursday to Ms Suu Kyi: "I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya."
He added: "My dear sister, if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep... We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene."
He noted that "the images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread".
"As we witness the unfolding horror, we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again," he said.
Mr Tutu, 85, has been living with prostate cancer for nearly two decades and has largely withdrawn from public life.
The Rohingya comprise some 1.1 million people who have long complained of persecution and are seen by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Ms Suu Kyi, in comments earlier on Thursday to Reuters Television's Indian partner Asian News International, said: "We have to take care of our citizens, we have to take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens."
Ms Suu Kyi, who has been feted for her years of peaceful opposition to Myanmar's junta rulers and who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for being a champion of democracy, did not refer spe- cifically to the exodus of the minority Rohingya.
Meanwhile, Washington lawmakers who once enthusiastically supported Ms Suu Kyi's rise to power in Myanmar have shifted this week to issuing criticism about her silence in the face of the Rohingya crisis, the latest sign that the nation's fragile democratic project is on tenuous footing.
Congressional leaders from both parties are adding their voices to the international condemnation of the violence in western Myanmar that has sent an estimated 164,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh and led to growing doubts over Ms Suu Kyi's leadership.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST