UNITED NATIONS – Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate kept under house arrest for 15 years, refused to acknowledge ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s military that resulted in more than 400,000 Muslims fleeing the country over the last month.
In a half-hour speech in polished English before politicians, military officers and foreign diplomats, Suu Kyi offered to verify the status of Rohingya Muslims who trekked to Bangladesh and aid the return of those eligible for resettlement.
“We want to find out why this exodus is happening, would like to talk to the people who have fled,” she said on Tuesday.
And she said diplomats could visit the Rohingya in Rakhine State who remained in Myanmar and find out why they stayed. She said all residents had access to education and health care, a claim easily disputed.
The latest onslaught occurred on Aug. 25, when the insurgent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an army base. The reaction was collective punishment. At least 1,000 people were murdered, others were raped and many homes were burned to the ground, according to satellite surveillance by Human Rights Watch.
Suu Kyi has a tenuous relationship with the military that kept her locked up for 15 years and knows how to sideline civilian leaders, refusing to name her president. While she is the de facto leader of Myanmar and its foreign minister, the army controls defense, home affairs, border security and the police. It can veto measures from the civilian government. So it is obvious Suu Kyi has to watch every word.
She said she had to remind the world that her government has been in power less than 18 months and people expected it to overcome all challenges “in the shortest time possible.”
Suu Kyi had asked Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, to head a commission and said Myanmar would follow his recommendations.
He has produced a report that said in part: “Unless current challenges are addressed promptly, further radicalization within both communities is a real risk. His nine-member commission described the Rohingya as “the single biggest stateless community in the world.”
Textbook ethnic cleansing
Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, called the situation a “text book example of ethnic cleansing.” Questioned about Zeid’s comment, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told reporters: “When one-third of the Rohingya population has got to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it?”
At the United Nations on Monday British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson chaired a closed meeting of Myanmar officials, and others, including U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Johnson, in a statement said the group pressed for a stop to the violence and to “open up immediate humanitarian access.”
At the meeting were Burma’s National Security Advisor and Deputy Foreign Minister and ministers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Denmark.
Sweden’s deputy ambassador, Carl Skau, told this reporter the Burmese officials were subject to heavy criticism from their neighbors and given a clear message “that the violence must stop” and that there had to be access to the disaster areas.
But the 15-seat UN Security Council, the most powerful UN body, has not scheduled an open meeting. Nor has 193-member General Assembly.
Security Council speaks, but barely
The Council broke its silence last Wednesday when it issued a press statement, which does not carry the weight of international law compared to a resolution. The statement expressed “deep concern” about the violence in Rakhine.
It called for immediate steps to establish law and order and ensure the protection of civilians. But it did not call for an end to military operations. China, which has defended the Myanmar government, would not allow it, diplomats said.
Myanmar is bordered by India and Bangladesh to its west, Thailand and Laos to its east and China to its north and northeast. To its south, is the Bay; of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. It has an estimated 51 million people, mostly Buddhists, with some 2 million identified a Muslims, according to a 2014 census.
Myanmar’s military said it is fighting Rohingya terrorists and denies it is targeting civilians.
Since independence in 1948, successive governments in Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, reports the Council on Foreign Relations. The Rohingya are largely considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many trace their roots in Myanmar back centuries. The government refuses to grant them citizenship.
Some 415,000 people have crossed into Bangladesh since August 25, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. More than 170,000 refugees have no access to health care and nearly 300,000 people, including 154,000 children under the age of five and nearly 55,000 pregnant women, do not have enough to eat.
UN aid workers are supplying food, plastic sheets, water and other supplies. The first 15 of 35 scheduled trucks of aid provided by the UN refugee agency ([UNHCR]) arrived in Bangladesh over the weekend. The World Health Organization is vaccinating children against polio and measles and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), (whose US funding has been eliminated for spurious reasons) is sending midwives and maternity kits.