Fri, Nov 03, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Suu Kyi makes first visit to crisis-hit Rakhine State

AFP, SITTWE, Myanmar

Rohingya refugees wait for permission from border guards to continue their journey yesterday after crossing from Myanmar to Palong Khali, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Photo: Reuters

Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday arrived on her first visit to conflict-battered northern Rakhine State, an official said, an unannounced trip to an area that has seen most of its Rohingya Muslim population forced out by an army campaign.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who leads the Burmese National League for Democracy, has been hammered by the international community for failing to use her moral power to speak up in defense of the Rohingya.

About 600,000 of the stateless minority have fled to Bangladesh since late August carrying accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s powerful army, after militant raids sparked a ferocious military retaliation.

The UN says that crackdown is likely tantamount to ethnic cleansing, while pressure has mounted on Myanmar to provide security for the Rohingya and allow people to return home.

In addition to the state capital Sittwe, Aung San Suu Kyi is also visiting two of the epicentres of the violence, Maungdaw and Buthidaung, as part of the “one day trip,” government spokesman Zaw Htay said.

It is her first trip in office to northern Rakhine, which has seen some of the worst of the communal violence that has cut through the western state since 2012, severely damaging Myanmar’s global reputation.

It was not clear if Aung San Suu Kyi would visit some of the hundreds of Rohingya villages torched by the army — allegedly aided by ethnic Rakhine Buddhist locals.

However, she did meet with Rohingya in Maungdaw, according to local media, a first for a leader keen to convince observers inside the country and abroad that the crisis has abated and reconstruction of Rakhine can begin.

The Rohingya who remain in northern Rakhine are living in fear, surrounded by hostile neighbors who refuse to let them farm or move freely.

The UN yesterday again called for unfettered humanitarian access to a zone still under army lockdown.

Yesterday, 2,500 Rohingya arrived by land at the Bangladesh border, a sign hunger and fear is still driving people from their homes.

“The army didn’t attack us, but made our life very difficult,” Mohammad Zafar, 35, from a village in Buthidaung said at the Bangladesh border. “We were not paid for any work and couldn’t go to markets. How long is it possible to live like that?”

Aung San Suu Kyi heads a committee charged with rebuilding Rakhine.

She was joined by businessman Zaw Zaw, one of a host of military “cronies” who thrived under junta rule and are now taking prominent roles in rebuilding the battered region.

There are fears a carve-up of contracts in Rakhine by big business will further divorce the Rohingya from their land.

She says the Rohingya who have fled are now welcome back, if they meet contested “verification” criteria for re-entry to Myanmar.

A Rohingya resident who has remained in Maungdaw town appealed to Aung San Suu Kyi to reconsider foisting a controversial national verification card on the minority.

The card grants them limited rights of residence in Myanmar, but does not recognize them as an ethnic group with citizenship.

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