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Burma Icon Disappoints Rohingya Muslims

Published: 05/11/2012 01:18:26 PM GMT
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YANGON - Burmese democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has declined to show support for Bengali-ethnic Muslims, known as Rohingyas, saying she will not use moral leadership to back any sides in the deadly secta (more)

YANGON - Burmese democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has declined to show support for Bengali-ethnic Muslims, known as Rohingyas, saying she will not use "moral leadership" to back any sides in the deadly sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the Asian country."I am urging tolerance but I do not think one should use one's moral leadership, if you want to call it that, to promote a particular cause without really looking at the sources of the problems," Suu Kyi told the BBC on Saturday.

At least 84 people have been killed and 129 others injured in deadly violence between Buddhists and ethnic-Bengali Muslims known as Rohingyas in the western state of Rakhine since October 21.

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The violence has displaced nearly 29,000 people, more than 97 percent of whom are Rohingya Muslims, according to the United Nations.

Many now live in camps, adding to 75,000 mostly Rohingya displaced in June after a previous explosion of sectarian violence killed at least 80 people.

Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingyas in the wake of the riots.

Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya Muslims with killing, rape and arrest following the unrest.

Suu Kyi's disappointing comments followed her talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who has said the EU is "deeply concerned" about the violence and its consequences for Burma's reforms.

Yet, Suu Kyi said she could not speak out in favor of the stateless Rohingya.

She added that both Buddhist and Muslim communities were "displeased" that she had not taken their side.

"I know that people want me to take one side or the other, so both sides are displeased because I will not take a stand with them," she said.

Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy in opposition to a ruthless military junta that held her under house arrest for years.


Equating both sides of the conflict, the Burmese icon blamed Muslims and Buddhists on inciting sectarian violence.

"Because if people are killing one another and setting fire to one another's houses, how are we going to come to any kind of reasonable settlement?" she said.

Sui Kyi has been under fire over being silent on the persecution on the sizable Muslim minority.

In September, she came under fierce criticism after saying that she does not know whether Muslim Rohingyas are citizens of Burma or no.

Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.

They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.

The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".

Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and the majority are ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.

Treating Buddhism as the state de facto religion, the Buddhist Burman majority was singled out as the trustworthy pillar of national identity.

Reproduced with permission from