Myanmar's Suu Kyi to address nation on Rakhine crisis next week

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 13 2017 08:22 PM | Updated as of Sep 13 2017 08:38 PM

Kashmiri students on Wednesday shout slogans during a protest against what they say are the killings of Rohingya people in Myanmar. Rohingya people have long been subjected to discrimination in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, which denies them citizenship. Danish Ismail, Reuters

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi will address the nation for the first time over a near three-week crisis in Rakhine state, which has left scores dead and sent some 380,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh. 

"She is going to speak for national reconciliation and peace," in a TV address on September 19, government spokesman Zaw Htay told reporters.

He said the Nobel laureate, who has been pilloried by rights groups for failing to speak up in the defense of the Rohinyga minority, would skip the United Nations General Assembly next week to tackle the crisis unfurling at home.

The violence has incubated a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border and piled intense global pressure on Suu Kyi to condemn the army campaign, which the UN has described as having all the hallmarks of "ethnic cleansing".

She is needed in Myanmar to "manage humanitarian assistance" and "security concerns" caused by the violence, as competing rumors ratchet up anti-Muslim rhetoric across the Buddhist-majority country.

Suu Kyi, Myanmar's first civilian leader in decades, has no control over the powerful military, which ran the country for 50 years before allowing free elections in 2015.

There is also scant sympathy among Myanmar's Buddhist majority for the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim group branded "Bengalis" -- shorthand for illegal immigrants.

But outside of her country Suu Kyi's reputation as a defender of the oppressed is in ruins over the Rohingya crisis.

Rohingya refugees have told chilling accounts of soldiers firing on civilians and razing entire villages in northern Rakhine state with the help of Buddhist mobs.

The army denies the allegations, while Suu Kyi has also played down claims of atrocities, instead blaming "a huge iceberg of misinformation" for complicating the conflict.

The United Nations on Wednesday said some 379,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state for Bangladesh since new violence erupted last month, 

The figure has risen by 9,000 in 24 hours, according to UN refugee agency spokesman Joseph Tripura told AFP.

Bangladesh authorities are now registering new arrivals and building a massive new camp near the border with Myanmar to accommodate the influx.

"We've already started shifting thousands of people to this camp where we're building sheds for them," Ali Hossain, government administrator for Cox's Bazar district, told AFP.

Attacks by Rohingya militants on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine on August 25 sparked a harsh military crackdown on the minority Muslim community and the exodus started almost straight away.

Rohingya people have long been subjected to discrimination in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, which denies them citizenship.

There were more than 300,000 Rohingya in refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Bangladesh even before the latest unrest.

These are now completely overwhelmed and tens of thousands of new arrivals have no shelter. 

Most walked for days to reach Bangladesh and aid workers say many are sick and in desperate need of food.

- Fallen star -

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner garlanded for her dignified and defiant democracy activism under Myanmar's former junta, was once the darling of the international community.

She made her debut before the UN assembly last September, winning warm applause for a speech delivered months after she became Myanmar's first civilian leader following a decades-long democracy struggle under the former junta.

In it she vowed to find a solution to long-running ethnic and religious hatred in Rakhine "that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the state."

In a sign of how far Suu Kyi's star has fallen since, the same rights groups that campaigned for her release from house arrest have blasted her for failing to speak up in defense of the Rohingya.

Sympathizers say her hands are tied by the army, which still runs a chunk of the government and has complete control over all security matters.

But fellow Nobel laureates have lined up to condemn her silence, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling it "incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country."

While the US and other Western powers have criticized the military campaign, Beijing on Tuesday offered Myanmar support saying the country was entitled to "safeguard" its stability.

Human Rights Watch's Phil Robertson urged the council to pass a "global arms embargo" on Myanmar's military, but said he expected China to water down any reaction.