Burmese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi must show “moral leadership” if Myanmar is to stem communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said yesterday.
Unrest has left at least 180 people dead since June and displaced 110,000 — mostly Rohingya Muslims — in Rakhine State, prompting international calls for the president and the Nobel laureate to defend the minority group.
“The flare-up in Rakhine State represents a deeply disturbing backward step” from Myanmar’s reforms after decades of junta rule, the Brussels-based rights group said in a report on the crisis due to be released tomorrow.
“This is a time when political leaders must rise to the challenge of shaping public opinion rather than just following it. A failure to do so will be to the detriment of the country,” it added.
Urging the government to curb nationalist rhetoric from the ethnic Rakhine, who are Buddhists, the report warned of the threat of rising “identity politics” in Myanmar as reforms give newfound freedoms to interest groups.
The volatile Rakhine situation needs “decisive moral leadership ... by both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi to prevent it spreading and contribute towards long-term solutions,” the study said.
Scores were killed and thousands of homes were torched in renewed violence last month and the ICG urged the government to ensure camps for the displaced do not become a precursor to the “segregation” of Rakhine and Rohingya.
The unrest pivots on the Rohingya’s lack of legal status in Myanmar, where they are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
With about 800,000 stateless Rohingya in Rakhine, the reformist government is under international pressure to grant them legal status, with warnings that the conflict threatens its democratic transition.
In rare comments touching on the topic, Aung San Suu Kyi last week urged the government to be open in any discussions about the citizenship status of the minority.
However, she has been widely criticized for failing to make her own position on the Rohingya clear.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s reticence has the potential to undermine her position as a democracy figurehead and could also damage her National League for Democracy party, the ICG said.