In her first public statement since the plight of the Burmese Rohingya turned into a mass exodus to Bangladesh after the incidents at the border last October, Aung San Suu Kyi gave an interview to the BBC denying “ethnic cleansing” and taking no position on the military campaign.
However, she maintained that her country is ready to welcome those who want to come back and said their safety will be guaranteed. ”Those who return will be welcome,” said the lady in yellow, this time sporting a stylish green dress (paradoxically the color of Islam). She spoke with BBC journalist Fergal Keane about the difficulties of the transition, the peace process and, after a few minutes, the Rohingya affair.
Suu Kyi denies all accusations of having been silent, claiming she instead took steps by asking Kofi Annan to take measures for a specific mission and that she has started with her government a citizenship verification audit. She is against the use of the term “ethnic cleansing” (Annan himself has refused to use it) and by refraining from condemning them, the Nobel Prize winner ends up justifying the actions of the military (accused of rape, violence, killings and burning of villages).
More than once, she went back on the citizenship issue. She didn’t say directly what will happen to the Rohingya, but by insisting on this point, she makes it relevant. A few days ago in fact, the military took a position on the most controversial issue: the citizenship rights of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
After Annan’s mission was made public with the request to empty the refugee camps in the Rakhine state, an irritate military caste had to say the last word, despite the fact there are civilians in the government. In response to the report of the former Secretary General, the Burmese army chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, said in clear words that there are no Rohingya in Myanmar, and those who remain are the last of the “Bangladeshi immigrants” without right to the Burmese citizenship. The civilian leadership in the country did not respond, oppressed by the fear of a backlash from the men in uniform.
Despite the strong position taken by the United Nations (Annan’s report is rather bland, but the U.N. has received complaints from the Human Rights Commission and UNHCR), it seems the words of the general close the chapter permanently.
But then, a week later Suu Kyi remarks on it. She did so at knifepoint, careful not to say too many words, but she but stressed the role of civil government and responded to the military without directly attacking it.
“I don’t think there is ethnic cleansing going on,” she said. “I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening. … It is not just a matter of ethnic cleansing as you put it — it is a matter of people on different sides of the divide, and this divide we are trying to close up.”