Fri, Sep 01, 2017 - Page 9 News List

‘The Lady’ is a mystery — and under fire

People formerly in Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s inner circle have varying explanations for her unexpected autocratic leadership style and controversial decisions — but most agree the experience has been disappointing

By Denis Gray  /  AP, YANGON, Myanmar

Illustration: Mountain People

As Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi launched a national struggle against decades of harsh military rule, one medical student worked tirelessly at her side, facing down armed soldiers trying to crush the surging pro-democracy movement.

For her activism and loyalty, Ma Thida suffered six years of mostly solitary imprisonment and nearly died of illnesses.

Now a medical doctor, novelist and recipient of international human rights awards, Ma Thida has few kind words for the former mentor she once called “my sister who always remained in my heart.”

The criticism by Ma Thida and other formerly ardent supporters is manifold: They accuse Aung San Suu Kyi of ignoring state violence against ethnic minorities and Muslims, continuing to jail journalists and activists, cowing to Myanmar’s still-powerful generals and failing to nurture democratic leaders who could step in when she, now 72, exits the scene.

Instead, her government is creating a power vacuum that could be filled again by the military, they say.

Some conclude that Aung San Suu Kyi, who espoused democracy with such passion, always possessed an authoritarian streak that only emerged once she gained power.

“We can’t expect her to change the whole country in one-and-a-half years, but we expect a strong human rights-based approach,” Ma Thida says of the Nobel Peace Prize winner once hailed as “Myanmar’s Joan of Arc” and spoken of in the same breath as former South African president Nelson Mandela and former Indian independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi.

International criticism has focused on Aung San Suu Kyi’s lack of action or condemnation of violence targeting the country’s approximately 1 million Rohingya Muslims, who have been brutalized since 2012 by security forces and zealots among the Buddhist majority in western Myanmar.

More than 1,000 Rohingya have been killed, while about 320,000 are living in squalid camps in Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh, according to estimates by US-based Human Rights Watch and the UN.

Thousands more embarked on perilous sea voyages to other Southeast Asian countries.

After a new wave of violence and humanitarian crisis erupted last week, with ethnic Rohingya militants attacking police posts and leaving 12 security personnel and 77 Rohingya Muslims dead, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said military and border police had launched “clearance operations.”

She herself condemned the militants for what she called “a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of those seeking to build peace and harmony in Rakhine state.”

As usual, she did not address the insurgents’ counter-allegations that the attacks were aimed at protecting Rohingya villagers from “intensified atrocities” perpetrated by “brutal soldiers.”

“The violence against the Rohingya is not an isolated event,” says Stella Naw, an analyst from the ethnic Kachin minority focusing on national reconciliation. “We know the game the army is playing, but as a politician elected by the people, she is accountable for her inaction and failure to condemn the army.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has banned a UN investigation team from entering the afflicted region and last month rejected the UN’s assertion that the regime’s actions “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

A report in February alleged that security forces had perpetrated mass killings, hurled children into fires and gang raped Muslim women.

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