UNITED NATIONS, United States: Aung San Suu Kyi faced mounting criticism Tuesday over what some world leaders are now calling the “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, despite her plea for patience from the international community.
The head of Myanmar’s civilian administration pledged to hold rights violators to account over the crisis in Rakhine state, but refused to blame Myanmar’s powerful military for the attacks that have driven 421,000 Muslim Rohingya out of her mainly Buddhist country.
But her speech, delivered in English and clearly aimed at deflecting international anger as world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, failed to quell international anger at reports that the Rohingya are being burned out of their homes.
“The military operation must stop, humanitarian access must be guaranteed and the rule of law restored in the face of what we know is ethnic cleansing,” French President Emmanuel Macron told world leaders gathered for the week of high-level diplomacy.
The United States has been careful not to blame Myanmar’s civilian leadership for the attacks because the country’s military retains control of security operations in troubled areas like northern Rakhine, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was moved to call Suu Kyi.
While Tillerson welcomed the pledge to crack down on abuses, he also urged both the government and the military “to address deeply troubling allegations of human rights abuses and violations” during the telephone conversation, his spokeswoman said.
Macron and Tillerson’s concerns echoed those of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who issued a blunt demand that Myanmar halt military operations and of Britain, which suspended training courses for the Myanmar military in light of the violence in Rakhine.
“The authorities in Myanmar must end the military operations and allow unhindered humanitarian access,” Guterres told the General Assembly.
“They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long.”
Amnesty International joined the outcry, saying Suu Kyi was “burying her head in the sand” over documented army abuses and claims of rape, murder and the systematic clearing of scores of villages.
And in New York, there was pressure from leaders like Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who compared the crisis to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
“If this tragedy in Myanmar is not stopped, the history of humanity will face the embarrassment of another dark stain,” Erdogan said, calling for the Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh to be allowed to return to the homes in which they “have lived for centuries.”
In her long-anticipated speech, Suu Kyi—a former political prisoner and Nobel Peace laureate who won international acclaim for her role in campaigning for a return to elected rule in Myanmar—failed to offer any concrete way out of the crisis.
Supporters and observers say the 72-year-old lacks the authority to rein in the military, which ran the country for 50 years and only recently ceded limited powers to her civilian government.
Myanmar’s army acts without civilian oversight and makes all security decisions, including its notorious scorched earth counterinsurgency operations.
Communal violence has torn through Rakhine state since Rohingya militants staged deadly attacks on police posts on August 25.
An army-led fightback has left scores dead and sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh.
In her 30-minute speech, Suu Kyi reached out to critics who have condemned her failure to speak up for the stateless Rohingya and promised to repatriate refugees in accordance with a “verification” process agreed with Bangladesh in the early 1990s.