DE FACTO leader of Burma (Myanmar) Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday made her first visit to restive Rakhine State since violence broke out two months ago, where she told local people “not to quarrel”.
More than 607,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma into Cox’s Bazar in neighbouring Bangladesh since Aug 25, when militants launched attacks on Burmese security forces sparking so-called “clearing operations” across the Rakhine.
Burma’s Tatmadaw army has now been accused of arson, extrajudicial killings and rape. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has faced heavy international criticism for not taking a higher profile in responding to what UN officials have called “ethnic cleansing” by the military.
Thousands continue to stream across the border, with 4,000 people fleeing into Bangladesh on Wednesday alone, a Bangladeshi security official told Reuters.
A Reuters reporter saw Suu Kyi board a military helicopter at Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital, at about 9am on Thursday, amid a heightened security presence.
Spokesman Zaw Htay said Suu Kyi was visiting the troubled border district of Maungdaw, which has seen the greatest exodus of people. “She will go to Maungdaw, and I cannot give any more details,” he told Reuters.
Suu Kyi met a group of Muslim religious leaders, said Chris Lewa, of the Arakan Project monitoring group, citing Rohingya sources.
“She only said three things to the people – they should live peacefully, the government is there to help them, and they should not quarrel among each other,” Lewa said, quoting information from a religious leader who was present.
Lately Suu Kyi, who does not control the military, has appeared to take a stronger lead in the crisis, focusing government efforts on rehabilitation and pledging to repatriate refugees.
Refugees in the Bangladesh camps say the army torched their villages, but Burma’s government blames Rohingya militants.
Suu Kyi had not previously visited Rakhine since assuming power last year following a landslide 2015 election victory. Most residents in the northern part of the state, which includes Maungdaw, were Muslims until the recent crisis.
The State Counsellor was accompanied on Thursday by about 20 people travelling in two military helicopters, including military, police and state officials. Businessman Zaw Zaw, formerly sanctioned by the US Treasury for his ties to the Burmese junta, was also with the Nobel laureate.
Suu Kyi launched a project last month to help rehabilitation and resettlement in Rakhine and has urged tycoons to contribute. She has pledged to allow the return of refugees who can prove they were residents of Burma, but thousands of people have continued to flee to Bangladesh.
Talks with Bangladesh have yet to deliver a pact on a repatriation process made more complex because predominantly-Buddhist Burma has long denied citizenship to the Muslim Rohingya.
Suu Kyi’s spokesman voiced fears on Tuesday that Bangladesh could be stalling on the accord to first get millions of dollars of international aid money, an accusation a senior Bangladesh home ministry official described as outrageous.
Additional reporting from Reuters.