Aung San Suu Kyi takes election bid to Myanmar's strife-torn Rakhine

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaking to supporters in Moe Nyin on Oct 4.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaking to supporters in Moe Nyin on Oct 4.PHOTO: EPA

THANDWE, Myanmar (AFP) - Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will campaign with a hundreds-strong security force in Rakhine state on Friday (Oct 16), as she risks a rare brush with hostility by taking her election bid to the volatile region.

The opposition leader, who is criss-crossing the former junta-run nation as she vies for victory in landmark Nov 8 polls, may face a mixed reception in western Rakhine, where Buddhist nationalists accuse her of supporting maligned local Muslims.

"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 problem," said Win Naing, chairman of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in the town of Thandwe.

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

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 Suu Kyi has faced international disappointment at her reluctance to speak out in support of the 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" were 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.

Suu Kyi has accused her opponents of using religion - and the rise of a powerful nationalist monk-led movement - as part of their political campaigns.

She will fly into Thandwe - the gateway to Myanmar's upscale nearby beach resorts - which was quiet early Friday with some NLD flags draped outside houses and hotels.

The 70-year-old will begin her two-day Rakhine campaign with a rally at Taunggote, some 70 km away, one of the sites of violence that triggered the 2012 unrest.

Since then, periodic bouts of religious bloodshed have overshadowed Myanmar's reform efforts as it begins to emerge from the grip of outright military rule under a quasi-civilian government, which came into power in 2011.

In a statement released on Thursday commending Myanmar on signing a limited truce with several ethnic minority armies, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called for "an open and peaceful electoral process".

He urged authorities and political parties to avoid any kind of intimidation or violence against individuals or groups based on their ethnic identity, religion or political views.