News analysis

Aung San Suu Kyi 'not dealing with core issue' in first public remarks on Rohingya crisis

Aung San Suu Kyi walks off the stage after delivering a speech to the nation over Rakhine and Rohingya situation, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - In a long awaited speech before international diplomats, Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday (Sept 19) morning spoke of her government's attempts to develop the troubled Rakhine state and stressed that the majority of villages occupied by Muslims there remained intact despite widespread reports of arson and assault.

She said her government was prepared to begin verifying the 400,000 refugees who had fled into Bangladesh, in preparation for their repatriation. And she asked diplomats to engage with Myanmar in a "positive" and "constructive" way.

But in her first public comments on the Rohingya crisis, she did not touch on the allegations of military atrocities against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority that were set off most recently after the Aug 25 attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police posts and an army base.

"The real subtext is that she can't do anything about this, and she is not going to do anything about this," independent analyst Kim Jolliffe told The Straits Times.

The Rohingya population in Myanmar, who number about one million, are seen by mainstream Myanmar society as illegal immigrants who crossed over during colonial times from present-day Bangladesh.

While public sentiment about the Rohingya within Myanmar - who are referred to as "Bengalis" - was not particularly positive before the insurgent attacks, it has now hardened amid fears of terrorism and what it sees as the foreign media's bias towards the Rohingyas.

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There is little that Ms Suu Kyi can directly do. Despite its parliamentary majority, Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has no say over military matters as well as key portfolios that run the country's civil service. But international critics have condemned the Nobel peace prize winner for staying silent on the treatment of the Rohingya.

On Tuesday, she invited the diplomats present to visit Rakhine state to find out why the Muslims who had remained in Rakhine state chose to stay.

"Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world," she said in the speech in Naypyitaw.

"We don't want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs or ethnicity... we all have the right to our diverse identities."

She also said anyone responsible for abuses in troubled Rakhine state would face the law. The United Nations has accused the army of carrying out ethnic cleansing in the troubled Rahkine state, charges rejected earlier by Ms Suu Kyi and the army.

Commenting on Ms Suu Kyi's speech, Mr Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told The Straits Times: "She recognises now the importance of trying to recoup her position in the international community

"She's trying to use engagement, without dealing with the core issue."

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