SINGAPORE—Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday defended her government’s actions in Rakhine state, where about 700,000 Rohingya fled from a brutal counterinsurgency campaign to neighboring Bangladesh. She said terrorism, not social discrimination or inequality, triggered the crisis.
Suu Kyi made the comments in a lecture in Singapore in which she reviewed her two years in power.
“We who are living through the transition in Myanmar [also known as Burma] view it differently than those who observe it from the outside and who will remain untouched by its outcome,” she said, in an apparent response to criticism of how her government has handled the plight of the Rohingya.
Critics accuse Burma’s army of carrying out ethnic cleaning, or even genocide, against the Rohingya minority of both Muslims and Hindus.
Suu Kyi’s civilian government says it carried out justifiable counterinsurgency operations in response to attacks on security forces by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which emerged during the past two years as an Islamic terrorist group funded from Saudi Arabia.
In a measure of the national sensitivity of the subject, Suu Kyi appeared not to refer to the Rohingya by name in her speech. The Rohingya, who have lived in Burma for centuries, were citizens until 1982, when legislation by the military junta removed citizenship, rendering them stateless and subject to forced labor and arbitrary confiscation of their property. But the term is rejected by many Buddhists in Burma who do not consider the group a native minority and charge it entered illegally from Bangladesh.
“The danger of terrorist activities which was the initial cause of events leading to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine remains real and present today,” she said. “Unless this security challenge is addressed, the risk of intercommunal violence will remain. It is a threat that could have grave consequences, not just for Myanmar but also for other countries in our region and beyond.”
Democratic Transition in Myanmar: Challenges and the Way ForwardSource : https://www.facebook.com/ChannelNewsAsia/videos/1038749412957818/
Posted by Myanmar State Counsellor Office on Tuesday, August 21, 2018
The army’s crackdown followed attacks last August on security outposts by the secretive ARSA, also known as Harakah al-Yaqin or “the faith movement,” which said it was acting on behalf of oppressed Rohingya Muslims.
On Aug. 25, insurgents of the Muslim Rohingya minority attacked Burmese police at 30 of their security posts across Rakhine state under the banner of the ARSA. The horrific attacks unleashed a horrific response from the military and forced about 420,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
The Swedish journalist and author Bertil Lintner, who has been writing about Burma and Asia for nearly four decades, wrote later in the Asia Times:
“The simultaneous attacks on August 25 required meticulous planning. In the months before … as many as 50 people, Muslims as well as Buddhists suspected of serving as government informants, had their throats slit or were hacked to death in order to deprive the Myanmar military of intelligence in the area.
“Videos released by Islamist groups in Indonesia show groups of young men undergoing military training … in preparation for a jihad in Rakhine state. Massive demonstrations in support of the Rohingya have been held throughout Bangladesh, where the influx of refugees has quickly become a domestic political issue pitting the ruling Awami League against a fundamentalist-backed opposition.”
Almost a year later, Amnesty International reported that shortly after the coordinated attacks on security posts, masked ARSA fighters killed as many as 99 Hindus near a remote village named Kha Maung Seik.
A 22-year-old witness and survivor of the ARSA massacre, Bina Bala, told the NGO, “[The men] held knives and long iron rods. They tied our hands behind our backs and blindfolded us. I asked what they were doing. One of them replied, ‘You and Rakhine are the same, you have a different religion, you can’t live here. He spoke the [Rohingya] language. They asked what belongings we had, then they beat us. Eventually I gave them my gold and money.”
Speaking of the Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh, Suu Kyi said it was difficult to say when they will be able to return to Rakhine state because her nation needs the cooperation of Bangladesh.
She said Burma has mapped out general sites for the resettlement of returning Rohingya, but the timing of the repatriation also depends on Bangladesh.
Burma’s government has signed several agreements on preparing for the return of the Rohingya, but U.N. agencies have accused it of dragging its feet, and human rights groups are concerned that the safety of returning Rohingya cannot be assured.
In its counterinsurgency campaign, the army beat and killed civilians, and organized rapes and the burning of thousands of homes belonging to Rohingya, according to evidence and survivor and witness accounts compiled by human rights organizations.
Suu Kyi’s speech was part of a series of annual lectures by global leaders organized by the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies.
David Kilgour, lawyer and former Canadian Secretary of State, contributed to this report.