Amid allegations of “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar in the wake of the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims, state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has said that her government “does not fear international scrutiny” and is making every effort to restore peace and normalcy.
“We condemn all human rights violations. We are committed to peace and [the] rule of law. The security forces have been advised to adhere to [the] code of conduct; to exercise all measures to avoid collateral damage. We feel deeply for the suffering of all people who have been caught in the conflict,” Suu Kyi said in an address in the Myanmarese capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday.
Suu Kyi spoke in English, indicating the speech was mainly meant for international consumption. “If you are interested in joining us in our endeavours, please let us know,” she told foreign diplomats gathered for her speech. “We can arrange for you to visit these areas and to ask (those who stayed back) why they have not fled, why they have chosen to remain in their villages.”
“Nevertheless, we are concerned to hear that numbers of Muslims are fleeing across the border to Bangladesh,” she said. “We want to understand why this exodus is happening. We would like to talk to those who have fled as well as those who have stayed.”
Even as Suu Kyi delivered her address, the first on the issue, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj met Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina in the US, where the two are attending the UN General Assembly session.
MEA officials said the Rohingya issue did not come up during the conversation. Swaraj had a telephonic conversation with Hasina last week during which she said India would pressure Myanmar on the refugee issue.
Bangladesh foreign secretary Shahidul Haque, however, told the local media that Swaraj and Hasina had discussed the Rohingya issue and he quoted Swaraj as saying that India stood by Bangladesh on the issue and would help in its resolution. Haque said that during their short meeting, US President Donald Trump too supported Bangladesh’s position. “Sushma Swaraj said that India always stands by Bangladesh and will help to resolve the crisis,” said Haque. Hasina and Swaraj were on the same Etihad Airways flight to New York from Abu Dhabi, he said, adding that they had a “brief meeting” on board.
Bangladesh continues to receive assistance from India, which is sending daily flights with 7,000 metric tonnes of relief material for the refugees. The Hasina government has confined the refugees into official camps, forbidding them from mingling with the local population. This, said officials, was for security reasons as well as sequestering the refugees to repatriate them later.
In September 2016, following a request from Suu Kyi, the Kofi Annan Foundation and the office of the state counsellor established an advisory commission to examine the complex challenges facing the troubled Rakhine province and propose answers to them.
Annan had pointed to the dangers of the current situation in Rakhine. “While Myanmar has every right to defend its own territory, a highly militarised response is unlikely to bring peace to the area,” the report said. “Unless concerted action — led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society — is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalisation, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine state,” Annan said.
Sources said there is huge Buddhist support in Myanmar for continued military operations against the Rohingya. Suu Kyi is under no pressure internally, and even if she wanted the army to ease up on the action, there is both popular and military support for it.