Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has condemned rights abuses in Rakhine state and says violators will be punished, but her failure to address UN accusations of ethnic cleansing drew a cool international response and calls for real action to help minority Muslims.
Suu Kyi made her first address to the nation since attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on August 25 led to a military response that has forced 421,000 Rohingya Muslims, more than half of them children, into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Western diplomats and aid officials, hoping for an unequivocal condemnation of violence, welcomed the tone of the Nobel Peace laureate’s message, but some doubted if she had done enough to deflect global criticism.
Long feted in the West as a champion of democracy in the Buddhist-majority country during years of military rule and house arrest, Suu Kyi has faced growing criticism for saying little about abuses faced by the Rohingya.
“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence. We are committed to the restoration of peace and stability and rule of law throughout the state,” Suu Kyi said in her address in the capital, Naypyitaw.
“Action will be taken against all people, regardless of their religion, race and political position, who go against the law of the land and violate human rights,” she said.
In a phone call to Suu Kyi, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomed the Myanmar government’s commitment to allow the return of refugees, but urged it to facilitate humanitarian aid to those affected by the violence and to address “deeply troubling” human rights abuse allegations.
China, which has close economic and diplomatic ties with Myanmar, has called for understanding of the government’s efforts to protect stability.
Britain said it had suspended its military training program in Myanmar and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned “unacceptable ethnic cleansing”. He told the annual UN General Assembly he would start a UN Security Council initiative to ensure humanitarian access and an end to the violence.
Amnesty International described Suu Kyi’s speech as “little more than a mix of untruths and victim-blaming”, saying she and her government were “burying their heads in the sand” for ignoring the army’s role in the violence.
Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh have told of soldiers and Buddhist civilians attacking and burning villages as recently as last Friday.
Rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have mounted a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the Muslim population.
The UN rights agency said it was “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.