Aung San Suu Kyi: No ethnic cleansing of Myanmar Muslim minority
[April 06 2017]
Aung San Suu Kyi has denied there is ethnic cleansing
of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, despite widespread reports
In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the Nobel
peace prize winner acknowledged problems in Rakhine state, where most
Rohingya people live.
But she said ethnic cleansing was "too strong" a term
Instead, Myanmar's de-facto leader said the country
would welcome any returning Rohingya with open arms.
"I don't think there is ethnic cleansing going on. I
think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is
happening," she told the BBC's special correspondent Fergal Keane.
Ms Suu Kyi added: "I think there is a lot of hostility
there - it is Muslims killing Muslims as well, if they think they are
co-operating with the authorities.
"It is not just a matter of ethnic cleansing as you
put it - it is a matter of people on different sides of the divide, and
this divide we are trying to close up."
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar, also
known as Burma, which views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
They face routine official and public discrimination.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya live in make-shift
refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence in 2012.
In recent months, some 70,000 have fled to Bangladesh
to escape a government military operation in Rakhine, launched after
nine policemen were killed in an attack.
The United Nations announced last month it was to
conduct an investigation into allegations the military has been
indiscriminately targeting the Rohingya during the operation, subjecting
them to rape, murder and torture. The government has denied this.
For many, Ms Suu Kyi's perceived silence on the
Rohingya has damaged the reputation she earned as a beacon for human
rights, thanks to her decades-long battle against the military junta,
during much of which she was under house arrest.
She has come under increasing pressure internationally
on the issue.
But speaking in a face-to-face interview for the first
time this year, Ms Suu Kyi said had answered questions on the issue
"This question has been asked since 2013, when the
last round of troubles broke out in Rakhine.
"And they [the journalists] would ask me questions and
I would answer them and people would say I said nothing.
"Simply because I did not make the statements people
wanted, which people wanted me to make, simply to condemn one community
or the other."
Ms Suu Kyi said she had no idea why the October
attacks were carried out, but speculated it may have been an effort to
derail attempts to negotiate peace between the Myanmar state and the
country's various armed ethnic insurgent groups.
She also denied the army had free rein to do whatever
"They are not free to rape, pillage and torture," she
said. "They are free to go in and fight. That is in the constitution.
Military matters are to be left to the army."
However, she did acknowledge that regaining control of
the military was something the government still hoped to do. Under the
current constitution, the military operates independently of the
From icon to politician: Fergal Keane for BBC News in
I meet her in Nay Pyi Daw, a relic of the absurdity
and paranoia of military rule, a capital marooned far from the people,
designed to keep the generals safe but where the new democratic
government is now trying to consolidate a hold on power.
I first interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi more than two
decades ago on her release from the first period of house arrest in July
1995. Since then I have followed her progress through renewed house
arrest, military crackdowns and then the triumph of democratic elections
The atmosphere when we met was friendly. She discussed
her government's achievements but refused absolutely to accept that the
Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state were the victims of ethnic cleansing.
These days she is wary of the international media,
disdainful of her international critics, far more the steely politician
than the global icon feted from capital to capital when she was released
seven years ago.
Ms Suu Kyi also defended the progress her government
had made since sweeping to power in March last year.
The number one priority - creating jobs - had been
helped by investment into roads, bridges and bringing electricity to
communities. Healthcare has also improved, and more free elections have
Other priorities included creating a peace in a
country which has almost continuously been in a state of civil war.
And then there was discussion of giving citizenship to
those who had been denied it under the military junta - like the
As for those Rohingya who have fled Myanmar to
neighbouring countries, Ms Suu Kyi said: "If they come back they will be
safe. It is up for them to decide, some have come back.
"We welcome them and we will welcome them back."
Courtesy : BBC
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