NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday she does not fear global scrutiny over the Rohingya crisis, pledging to hold rights violators to account and to resettle some of the 410,000 Muslims who have fled army operations in her country.
But she offered no concrete solutions to stop what the UN calls “ethnic cleansing”. Amnesty International said the Nobel peace prizewinner was “burying her head in the sand” by ignoring army abuses.
Communal violence has torn through Rakhine state since Rohingya militants staged deadly attacks on police posts on August 25. Hundreds have been killed and hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya driven out of mainly Buddhist Myanmar into Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi has been strongly criticize by the international community for failing to speak up publicly for the stateless Rohingya or to urge restraint on the military.
In a 30-minute televised speech Tuesday she reached out to her critics, deploying the soaring rhetoric that once made her a darling of the global rights community.
In an address timed to pre-empt likely censure at the UN General Assembly in New York, she said Myanmar stood ready “at any time” to repatriate refugees in accordance with a “verification” process agreed with Bangladesh in the early 1990s.
In less than a month just under half of Rakhine’s one-million-strong Rohingya minority has poured into Bangladesh, where they now languish in one of the world’s largest refugee camps.
Those “verified as refugees” will be “accepted without any problems and with full assurance of their security and access to humanitarian aid,” Suu Kyi said.
It was not immediately clear how many Rohingya would qualify to return.
But the subject of their claims to live in Myanmar is at the heart of a toxic debate about the Muslim group, who are denied citizenship by the state and considered to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s government has previously said it will not take back people linked with “terrorists” and suggested that many of those who fled had set fire to their own villages before leaving.
Suu Kyi’s pledge to repatriate the refugees “is new and significant”, said Richard Horsey, an independent analyst based in Myanmar, explaining it would in principle allow for the return of those who can prove residence in Myanmar—rather than citizenship.
“However, there continues to be a live crisis in the north of Rakhine,” he said.
In an address delivered entirely in English, Suu Kyi insisted army “clearance operations” finished on September 5 without any further militant attacks.
But Agence France-Presse reporters have seen homes on fire in the days following September 5, while testimony from refugees arriving in Bangladesh suggests army operations have continued.