Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited violence-hit Rakhine State for the first time on Thursday since the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims began. Thousands of Rohingyas have fled Rakhine in north Myanmar into neighbouring countries, especially Bangladesh, to escape atrocities by the army.
“The State Counsellor (Suu Kyi’s official title) is now in Sittwe and will go to Maungdaw and Buthiduang too. It will be a day trip,” government spokesman Zaw Htay told AFP. Both Maungdaw and Buthiduang were epicentres of violence.
Suu Kyi, a nobel laureate who leads Myanmar’s pro- democracy party, has been hammered by the international community for failing to use her moral power to speak up in defence of the Rohinyga.
It was not clear if Suu Kyi would visit some of the hundreds of Rohinyga villages torched by the army, or if she would meet the remaining clusters of the Muslim group, who are living in fear and hunger surrounded by hostile neighbours.
Rohingyas are a stateless minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and widely dismissed as illegal “Bengali” immigrants.
Some 600,000 of them fled to Bangladesh since late August. They recounted horror stories of murder, rape and arson at the hands of the Myanmar’s army, after militant raids sparked a ferocious military crackdown.
The UN has said that the crackdown was tantamount to ethnic cleansing as international pressure continues to build on Myanmar to provide security for the Rohingya and allow people to return home.
Thousands of Rohingyas, who have not escaped the country, are believed to be still camping on a beach near Maungdaw awaiting boats to Bangladesh in dangerous conditions.
Experts say Suu Kyi has chosen not to criticise the army in fear of a backlash from a powerful institution that controls all security matters.
Suu Kyi heads a committee charged with rebuilding Rakhine and repatriating Rohingya from Bangladesh who meet strict criteria for re-entry to Myanmar.
(With inputs from agencies)