Archbishop Tutu slams Suu Kyi over Rohingya crisis

Frederick Owens
September 13, 2017

Desmond Tutu's intervention comes as the United Nations refugee agency announced an estimated 270,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh over the past two weeks. There are reports of villages being burned to the ground and the military deliberately targeting civilians, but access to the region is limited, so the reports can't be independently verified.

A Bangladesh minister said the government had chose to create a huge new camp on almost 2,000 acres of land near an existing United Nations facility, where new arrivals will be registered and given aid.

Myanmar's population is overwhelmingly Buddhist and there is widespread hatred against the Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship and labelled illegal "Bengali" immigrants.

The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday behind closed doors for the second time since the latest crisis erupted.

While there is plenty of blame to place on the military for the current situation in Rakhine state, Suu Kyi is the only one seeking to walk a tightrope, between providing a positive way forward for the Rohingya on the one hand, while not providing the military the pretext for ending Myanmar's fledgling democracy on the other.

Aung San Suu Kyi will focus attention on the "Rakhine terrorist attacks", her spokesman said, after announcing Wednesday the she will skip an upcoming UN General Assembly session in NY later this month.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who lived under house arrest for many years under a junta that ultimately gave way to an elected government, faces global criticism and pressure.

When she was awarded the US Congressional Medal in 2012, influential Republican senator Johan McCain said Suu Kyi was his hero.

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever peace prize victor, said on Monday "the world is waiting" for Suu Kyi to act. Rakhine Buddhists, feeling unsafe after the upsurge in fighting, are moving south to the state's capital, Sittwe, where Buddhists are a majority and have greater security.

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Unless Myanmar's security forces end their brutality in Rakhine and the government of Aung San Suu Kyi adopts a political response to the crisis, increasing numbers of Rohingya are likely to swing their support to the militants.

Scores of Rohingya civilians have fled to Bangladesh, overwhelming refugee camps that were already bursting at the seams and triggering warnings of a humanitarian crisis.

In March 2014, the Myanmar government banned the word Rohingya and asked for registration of the minority as Bengalis in the country's first census in three decades.

Suu Kyi was in the U.S. on a tour organized by the U.S. State Department.

Several fellow Nobel laureates have also condemned her silence.

The spokesman did not explain the decision but said the country's Vice President Henry Van Thio would attend the summit, which runs through next week. There is little public sympathy for them and inside Rakhine state the Rakhine Buddhists are even more hostile. On 10 August, new battalions of the army began arriving in Maungdaw to conduct fresh operations in the area, following which reports of violent raids and blockades of Rohingya villages by SFs and ethnic Rakhines began to emerge. A meeting of Rakhine's local ruling party, Arakan National Party (ANP), and the Tatmadaw's commander-in-chief immediately followed, where the former reiterated its demand for boosted security measures.

"The Rohingya fleeing Myanmar are now stateless refugees, making them even more vulnerable and adding more challenges to the search for solution", said the UNHCR spokesperson. But she needs the domestic political capital, the courage of her own humanitarian convictions, and critically, the active cooperation of her own military to continue to succeed.

During that discussion, she brushed aside criticism over her role: "I've made it very clear that our work is not to condemn but to achieve reconciliation".

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