Suu Kyi says Rohingya crisis could have been handled better


Hanoi: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged on Thursday that her government could have better handled the violence against Rohingya Muslims in the country’s western Rakhine state. UN investigators have said the campaign by the Myanmar military was carried out with “genocidal intent.”

Since August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh amid what they described as a brutal campaign of gang rape, arson and mass killing. The “ethnic cleansing” operation has spawned one of the largest, ongoing humanitarian catastrophes, but the military has largely denied wrongdoing.

Suu Kyi, a onetime democracy icon, sparked international ire for standing by the armed forces. UN experts accused her administration of allowing hate speech to thrive, while also failing to protect minorities from military atrocities.

“There are of course ways in which with hindsight I think the situation could have been handled better,” Suu Kyi said, responding to questions during a one-on-one discussion at the World Economic Forum’s regional meeting in Hanoi. She still defended Myanmar security forces, saying that all groups in Rakhine state had to be protected.

“We have to be fair to all sides,” Suu Kyi said. “The rule of law must apply to everyone. We cannot choose and pick.” Suu Kyi said the situation was complicated by the myriad ethnic minorities in the area, some of which are at risk of disappearing entirely and which include not just the Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists.

Although the violence in Rakhine state has eased, Myanmar has to deal with its aftermath, especially the repatriation of the Muslim Rohingya who fled and the underlying causes of tension that makes them targets of discrimination and repression in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar.

Suu Kyi said that Myanmar is prepared to take those who fled back, but their return has been complicated by the fact that two governments are involved. Aid workers say conditions for a safe and orderly return of the refugees have not been met.

Suu Kyi also rejected criticism over the show-trial conviction last week of two Reuters news agency reporters who helped expose extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya men and boys.

The reporters were both sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on charges of possessing state secrets.

“The case has been held in open court,” Suu Kyi said. “If anyone feels there has been a miscarriage of justice I would like them to point it out.” “They were not jailed because they were journalists. They were jailed because … the court has decided they have broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said.

Suu Kyi noted that the two can appeal their sentences.

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