Tue, Nov 14, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Suu Kyi now benefits from SE Asia’s silence

AP, YANGON, Myanmar

When Burmese State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi led the fight for democracy against Myanmar’s despotic military rulers two decades ago, she bristled at the collective reluctance of Southeast Asian governments to intervene in her nation’s plight.

In a newspaper editorial published on July 13, 1999, the former opposition leader slammed the 10-member ASEAN, saying its “policy of non-interference is just an excuse for not helping.”

“In this day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries,” she wrote in Thailand’s the Nation newspaper.

During the ASEAN summit in Manila yesterday, she was likely counting on the bloc to keep silent while her government engages in a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

It was unclear whether the crisis was to be on ASEAN’s official agenda, although Malaysia and Indonesia were likely to bring it up in talks on the meeting’s sidelines.

However, little is expected to be done.

“ASEAN summits are not designed to actually construct policy responses to major human rights issues that affect the whole region,” said David Mathieson, a former human rights researcher who is now an independent analyst based in Myanmar. “Right now, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is benefiting from ASEAN’s culture of inaction.”

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights,” in the words of the Nobel committee, but has been reluctant to defend the Rohingya.

In a September speech, she asked for patience from the international community and suggested the refugees were partly responsible for the crisis. She also tried to play down the gravity of the exodus, saying more than half of the Rohingya villages in Myanmar had not been destroyed.

The military is in charge of the operations in northern Rakhine, and ending them is not up to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Her government has staunchly defended the army’s actions.

When the UN Security Council last week called for Myanmar to “end the excessive military force and intercommunal violence that had devastated the Rohingya community,” Aung San Suu Kyi’s office responded that it regretted the council’s statement.

In an apparent reference to China, which has backed Myanmar, the government praised council members who “upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.”

Non-interference has long been a bedrock of ASEAN.

Burmese presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said he did not know what is to be discussed at the summit, so “we can’t say how we are going to respond to it.”

Chandra Widya Yudha, director of the ASEAN Political and Security Cooperation at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that his government would address the Rohingya crisis at the meeting.

“We cannot keep silent, because we have to help them,” Yudha said.

Malaysia in particular has been critical of Myanmar’s disproportionate use of force.

Earlier this month, the predominantly Muslim country dissociated itself from an ASEAN statement expressing concern over the crisis, because it said the statement misrepresented the reality of the situation, omitted reference to Rohingya Muslims as one of the affected communities and was not based on consensus.

Political analyst Khin Zaw Win said that both Myanmar’s previous military junta and Aung San Suu Kyi’s government have benefited from ASEAN’s reticence, but that the bloc should “take a firmer position” on the Rohingya issue.

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