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Nobel laureate, Suu Kyi, ‘Very Sad’ Over Muslim Plight in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a lecture at the University of Tokyo, April 17, 2013. Photo: RFA

Radio Free Asia:
April, 17, 2013

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed sadness Wednesday that some of Burma’s Muslim leaders whom she met recently felt as if they did not belong to the country.

In rare comments on sectarian violence at a news conference during her Japan visit, she said Buddhist-majority Burma must learn to accommodate divergent views and that the minority Muslim community must be made to feelsecure.

“I’ve met some Muslim leaders very recently,” she said of her talks last week with representatives from the country’s leading Islamic groups following deadly March violence between Muslims and Buddhists in central Burma.

“It is very sad, because none of them has been to any other country apart from Burma. They did not feel that they belonged anywhere and it was sad for them that they were made to feel that they didn’t belong in our country either,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.

“This is a very sad state of affairs. We must learn to accommodate those with different views from ours.”

Speaking separately Wednesday to students at Tokyo University, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was “not a magician” to make deep-rooted ethnic disputes disappear instantly, in an apparent reference to criticism from rights and other groups against her for being largely silent over the communal clashes and minority rights.

At least 43 people were reported dead and thousands, mostly Muslims, driven from their homes and businesses in the latest violence in central Burma.

“They wanted me to talk about how to make these communal differences disappear … I’m not a magician. If I were, I’d say ‘disappear’ and they would all disappear. Differences take a long time to sort out,” she said, according to Reuters news agency.


She also said that the government of President Thein Sein should review Burma’s citizenship laws, although she again failed to directly answer a question on whether she considered the Muslim Rohingyas, who had lived for generations in the country, to be citizens.

Burma, she said, is entitled to abide by its own laws, such as its citizenship law, but it also has to assess those laws to ensure they comply with international standards.

“This is what the Burmese government should do, to face the issue of citizenship fairly,” she was quoted saying by the Associated Press.

“I have said that any violation of human rights and any acts of violence are inimical to a united and peaceful society and I stand by that,” said Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who was locked up for 15 years by Burma’s former military junta. 

Last year, clashes between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines occurred twice in Burma’s Rakhine state, leaving at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless. Rights groups said Rohingyas bore the brunt of the violence.

Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Rakhine state but most of them, according to rights groups, have been denied citizenship as they are considered by most Burmese and the government to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

The stateless Rohingyas have been described by the U.N. as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Aung San Suu Kyi defended her conciliatory political style, saying her focus was on building a more unified society rather than making headlines, Agence France-Presse reported.

She said she has been addressing the plight of minority groups albeit in ways that people may consider “boring.”

“In fact, I have been speaking all the time about ethnic nationalities. But the point was that my statements were not colorful enough to please everybody,” she told the press conference.

The recent violence in central Burma has been linked to radical monks and triggered international concerns. Rights groups accused the security forces of standing by while the attacks, which appeared to be well organized, took place.  

Plight of refugees

Weeks after the violence, more than 12,000 mostly-Muslim residents of central Burma’s Meikhtila city continue to live in temporary camps.

Many are anxious to return to their homes but have been barred from doing so amid assurances by the government that it will rebuild the houses within two months.

Ba Soe Win, a Muslim refugee staying at the No. 3 High School refugee center in Meikhtila, told RFA’s Burmese Service that about half of the 1,300 occupants of the center want to go back to their homes. Some of them insist their houses were not completely destroyed in the violence.

He said the rooms at the center were overcrowded and food insufficient.

“The weather is very hot and the rooms are overcrowded,” Ba Soe Win said. “A room should have about 25-30 people but about 80-90 people have been put there to stay. Because of the weather and crowed rooms, we can’t stay in the rooms and we are almost always outside of the rooms.”

“It is like we are under house arrest here,” he said. 

“We can’t contact anyone outside. Some are in a state of depression.”

Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.