Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi to address nation next week on Rohingya crisis

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi to address nation next week on Rohingya crisis

Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi listens to a journalist's question during a joint press conference with the UN secretary general in Naypyidaw last year. (Photo: AFP/Romeo Gacad)

YANGON: Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi will address the crisis engulfing Rakhine state next week, in her first speech since scores were killed in violence that has sent nearly 380,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh and sullied her reputation as a defender of the oppressed.

A crackdown by Myanmar's army, launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on Aug 25, has pushed vast numbers of refugees from the stateless Muslim minority across the border.

The violence has incubated a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border and put intense global pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the army campaign, which the UN has described as having all the hallmarks of "ethnic cleansing".

At a press conference late Wednesday government spokesman Zaw Htay said Aung San Suu Kyi would "speak for national reconciliation and peace" in a televised address on September 19.

He said the Nobel laureate, who has been pilloried by rights groups for failing to speak up in the defence of the Rohinyga minority, would skip the United Nations General Assembly next week to tackle the crisis unfurling at home.

She was needed in Myanmar to "manage humanitarian assistance" and "security concerns" caused by the violence. Competing rumours have intensified anti-Muslim rhetoric across the Buddhist-majority country.

In the northern area of Rakhine, 176 of the 471 Rohingya villages there were empty after "the whole village fled", Zaw Htay said, adding others were partly deserted or intact.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned for a lack of moral leadership and compassion in the face of a crisis that has shocked the international community. Her limited comments so far have referenced a "huge iceberg of misinformation" and played down alleged atrocities against the Rohingya.

Bangladesh is struggling to provide relief for exhausted and hungry refugees - some 60 per cent of whom are children - while nearly 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced inside Myanmar.

Nine thousand more Rohingya refugees poured into Bangladesh on Wednesday, the UN said, as authorities worked to build a new camp for tens of thousands of arrivals who have no shelter.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's first civilian leader in decades, has no control over the powerful military, which ran the country for 50 years. A free election was finally held in 2015.

There is also scant sympathy among Myanmar's Buddhist majority for the Rohingya, who are branded "Bengalis" - shorthand for illegal immigrants.

But outside of her country Aung San Suu Kyi's reputation as a defender of the oppressed is in ruins. Rohingya refugees have told chilling accounts of soldiers firing on civilians and razing entire villages in the north of Rakhine state with the help of Buddhist mobs.

Rohingya Muslim refugees disembark from a boat on the Bangladeshi side of Naf river in Teknaf on Sep 12, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Munir Uz Zaman)

The army denies the allegations.

The UN Security Council was scheduled later on Wednesday to discuss the refugee crisis in a closed-door meeting, with China expected to block any attempts to censure its Southeast Asian ally.

Ahead of the meeting 12 Nobel Laureates signed an open letter urging the Security Council to "intervene immediately by using all available means" to end the tragedy and "crimes against humanity" unfolding in Rakhine.

FALLEN STAR

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner garlanded for her dignified and defiant democracy activism under Myanmar's former military government, was once the darling of the international community.

She made her debut before the UN assembly last September, winning warm applause for a speech delivered months after she became Myanmar's first civilian leader following a decades-long democracy struggle under the former military government.

In it she vowed to find a solution to long-running ethnic and religious hatred in Rakhine "that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the state".

In a sign of how far Aung San Suu Kyi's star has fallen since, the same rights groups that campaigned for her release from house arrest have blasted her for failing to speak up in defence of the Rohingya.

Sympathisers say her hands are tied by the army, which still runs a chunk of the government and has complete control over all security matters.

But fellow Nobel laureates have lined up to condemn her silence, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling it "incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country".

Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks to reporters after his meeting with Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at Suu Kyi's residence in Yangon on Feb 26, 2013. (Photo: AFP/ Soe Than Win)

While the US and other Western powers have criticised the military campaign, Beijing on Tuesday offered Myanmar support saying the country was entitled to "safeguard" its stability.

Human Rights Watch's Phil Robertson urged the council to pass a "global arms embargo" on Myanmar's military, but said he expected China to to water down any reaction.

The 1.1-million strong Rohingya have suffered years of discrimination in Myanmar, where they were stripped of their citizenship despite having long roots in the country.

Bangladesh does not want the group either, though it is providing the refugees with temporary shelter.

Many Rohingya died making the perilous journey across the border, with nearly 100 drowning in boat trips across the Naf river that divides the two countries.

Bangladeshi authorities want to establish a 2,000-acre camp close to Myanmar's border to house around 250,000 Rohingya and are also planning to build facilities on a flood-prone island.

Source: AFP/ec

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