Suu Kyi visits Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine border district

Under-fire leader makes first trip since Rohingya Muslims forced to flee

Aung San Suu Kyi: the Burmese leader meets Myo people in Maungdaw, one of the districts worst hit by anti-Muslim violence. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Aung San Suu Kyi: the Burmese leader meets Myo people in Maungdaw, one of the districts worst hit by anti-Muslim violence. Photograph: AFP/Getty

 

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Thursday urged people “not to quarrel” as she visited Rakhine state for the first time since a military crackdown that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the country.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has faced heavy international criticism for not taking a higher profile in responding to what United Nations officials have called ethnic cleansing by the army. Myanmar has rejected the accusations of ethnic cleansing, saying its security forces launched a counterinsurgency operation after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts in northern Rakhine on August 25th.

On Thursday, amid heightened security, Ms Suu Kyi boarded a military helicopter at Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, to be taken to Maungdaw, one of the districts worst hit by the violence.

Ms 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,” Mr Lewa said, quoting a religious leader who was present.

A US state-department delegation will be in Bangladesh on Friday and Saturday to discuss the humanitarian crisis and human-rights concerns stemming from the crisis in Rakhine.

Exodus far from over

On Wednesday thousands of desperate Rohingya waded through shallows and narrow creeks between islands of the River Naf to reach neighbouring Bangladesh as the exodus begun two months ago was far from over. Some had small boats or pulled makeshift rafts to get to Bangladesh, on the river’s western bank, but most walked, children cradled in their arms and the elderly carried on their backs, with sacks of belongings tied to staves on their shoulders.

Reaching the far side, some women and older people had to be pulled through the mud to reach dry land atop steep banks. More than 4,000 crossed at different points on the river on Wednesday, according to Maj Mohammed Iqbal, a Bangladesh security official in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar.

Ms Suu Kyi had not previously visited Rakhine since assuming power last year, after a landslide 2015 election victory. Most residents in the northern part of the state, which includes Maungdaw, were Muslims until the recent crisis.

Ms Suu Kyi, who does not control the military, has lately appeared to take a stronger lead in the crisis, focusing government efforts on rehabilitation and pledging to repatriate refugees. She launched a project in October to help rehabilitation and resettlement in Rakhine and has urged tycoons to contribute.

Ms Suu Kyi has pledged to allow the return of refugees who can prove they were residents of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, but thousands of people have continued to flee to Bangladesh.

Refugees in the Bangladesh camps say the Myanmar army torched their villages, but Myanmar blames Rohingya militants. Talks with Bangladesh have yet to deliver a pact on a repatriation process made more complex because Myanmar has long denied citizenship to the Rohingya. – Reuters