Suu Kyi ally wants equal rights for persecuted Rohingya Muslims

A Rohingya refugee family rests in a temporary shelter in Ukhia, Bangladesh, on March 25, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in refugee camps in Bangladesh should be reintegrated into Myanmar society and afforded "full rights" including citizenship, according to a key ally of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking in an interview last week, Dr Sasa, who uses just one name and describes himself as the envoy representing Myanmar's Parliament to the United Nations, said it was time for the country's 55 million people to set aside their differences and face down a military that seized power last month.

Under the previous government led by Suu Kyi, who is now detained, Myanmar defended the military against accusations of perpetrating genocide on the Rohingya from 2017, forcing more than 700,000 people to flee across the border.

The military's treatment of the Rohingya prompted the US to sanction top military leaders, damaged Suu Kyi's international reputation and soured the investment climate.

Authorities have continuously failed to guarantee protections for their repatriation, leaving them to live in squalid conditions in refugee camps.

They are denied basic rights including citizenship, while the authorities - including previous elected ones - have refused to even recognise them as Rohingya and called them "Bengali," which they consider derogatory.

"I have been waiting for the time for me to call our Rohingya brothers and sisters my family," Dr Sasa said in the interview with Bloomberg Television's Haslinda Amin. "We are one family. Now we have got only one common enemy that is these military generals."

The comments came ahead of the deadliest weekend since the coup, with at least 114 protesters and civilians killed in clashes with the military and police on Saturday alone. A dozen defence chiefs from around the world jointly condemned the use of lethal force against unarmed people, which has left 459 people dead so far.

As part of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a parallel government set up by overthrown members of the National League for Democracy, Dr Sasa said people "should be given the chance to protect themselves" against violent suppression from the military.

The junta has defended its harsh crackdown on protesters by consistently describing them as violent rioters who have attacked security forces and damaged property.

Dr Sasa spoke after a fire in Bangladesh on March 22 tore through the world's largest refugee camp, displacing more than 45,000 Rohingya Muslims, according to a spokesperson for the UN secretary-general.

Explaining his stance on the Rohingya, Dr Sasa, a trained physician from Myanmar's western Chin state, said the situation has now changed after Suu Kyi faced "very, very difficult circumstances" running a government jointly with the military.

With members of the CRPH either in hiding or on the run, he called on countries including China to take strong action against the junta, including tougher sanctions. "I really believe that China has the power to stop these military generals if they really want to," he said.

The US and UK imposed a fresh round of sanctions targeting Myanmar's military on Thursday by blacklisting the largest business entities it controls. China has meanwhile refrained from any such restrictions.

Still, if the protest movement is somehow able to topple the military eventually, Dr Sasa pledged that a civilian government would work to end civil strife that has endured for decades, and would ensure full rights for the Rohingya, including citizenship.

"Everybody will have equal rights - as I say in principle - no one should be left behind based on culture based on color, based on the race or based on religion," he said. "Those days are over."

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