Myanmar’s embattled state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, has visited Rakhine State to inspect the sites of atrocities against the displaced Rohingya community.
The international community has accused the military of using arson, execution and rape to force around 800,000 Muslims – according to the United Nations Migration Agency – across the border into Bangladesh. Suu Kyi argues Rakhine’s problems can best be addressed through development and investment.
Suu Kyi’s nominally civilian government claims the authorities are fighting “Bengali terrorists”, who attacked police outposts, killing around 12 people. The border region is off limits to international observers and independent journalists so the government’s claims cannot be independently verified.
Suu Kyi’s ministers claim that not a single Rohingya has been killed by the military, in contradiction to the documented cases of ethnic cleansing against Muslim residents. Bangladesh’s foreign minister has said around 3,000 people were killed, including women and children, since the recent outbreak of violence on August 25.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has not sent any investigators to the refugee camps in Bangladesh to hear the stories of the 1 million Rohingya refugees.
In the past Suu Kyi has said the displaced Rohingya would be allowed to return.
But Rakhine Buddhists, many of whom joined the attacks on their Muslim neighbours, have said they would not accept the return of any Rohingya, even if Dhaka and Nay Pyi Taw signed a repatriation deal.
“Just as important as finally visiting affected areas is the need for Aung San Suu Kyi to actually understand what happened there. And that requires her to break the military cordon around the information she’s receiving and start listening to other sources,” said Phil Robertson, deputy regional director for Human Rights Watch.
“Some scales need to fall from her eyes about northern Rakhine State, and one hopes that this could be the beginning of that process.”
Suu Kyi visited the regional capital, Sittwe, Taung Pyo on the border and addressed one of the remaining Rohingya communities during the unannounced one-day trip.
A US Senate cross-party proposal, tabled to step up pressure on Myanmar’s military or Tatmadaw, calls for sanctions and visa bans amid fears it could damage Suu Kyi’s standing.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is a long-time supporter of Suu Kyi who has opposed anything that could undermine her position, destabilise the country and diminish the NLD government.
The Burma Act of 2017 avoids implicating or naming Suu Kyi and would authorise US$104 million in humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya and reinstate a ban on jade and rubies imports.
Happier times: Barack Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi in 2014. Picture credit: Wikimedia