Aung San Suu Kyi has declined to speak out on behalf of Rohingya Muslims and insisted she will not use “moral leadership” to back either side in deadly communal unrest in west Myanmar, reports said.
The Nobel laureate, who has caused disappointment among international supporters for her muted response to violence that has swept Rakhine State, said both Buddhist and Muslim communities were “displeased” that she had not taken their side.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced since June in two major outbreaks of violence in the state, where renewed clashes last month uprooted about 30,000.
Dozens have been killed on both sides and thousands of homes torched.
“I am urging tolerance, but I do not think one should use one’s moral leadership, if you want to call it that, to promote a particular cause without really looking at the sources of the problems,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the BBC on Saturday.
Speaking in the capital, Naypyidaw, after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who has said the EU is “deeply concerned” about the violence and its consequences for Myanmar’s reforms, Aung San Suu Kyi said she could not speak out in favor of the stateless Rohingya.
“I know that people want me to take one side or the other, so both sides are displeased because I will not take a stand with them,” she said.
The democracy champion, who is now a member of the Burmese parliament after dramatic changes overseen by a quasi-civilian regime that took power last year, said the rule of law should be established as a first step before looking into other problems.
“Because if people are killing one another and setting fire to one another’s houses, how are we going to come to any kind of reasonable settlement?” she said.
Barroso has called for an end to the violence following talks with Burmese President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, while pledging aid to the former pariah state.
“We are deeply concerned by these events and by the consequences for the reforms and democratization of the country. We hope that all religious leaders will call for restraint,” Barroso said in a speech on Saturday.
“The EU stands ready to mobilize 4 million euros (US$5 million) for immediate humanitarian needs, provided access to the affected areas is guaranteed,” he said, according to a copy of his speech released in Brussels.
Barroso, the latest in a series of Western officials to visit Myanmar since reforms began last year, was speaking at a newly established peace center in Yangon.
The EU has contributed 700,000 euros to set up the peace center, which is designed to facilitate “dialogue between all those concerned by Myanmar’s ethnic peace processes,” a separate European Commission statement said.
Thein Sein has been widely praised for overseeing sweeping reforms in the former junta-ruled nation, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
However, the Rakhine violence poses a stern challenge to the reform process, observers say.
Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya are seen by the Burmese government and many in the country as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. They face severe discrimination that activists say has led to a deepening alienation.
The Rohingya, who make up the vast majority of those displaced in the fighting, are described by the UN as among the world’s most persecuted minorities.