Rohingya crisis: Myanmar’s Suu Kyi visits troubled Rakhine

Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) at Sittwe airport. Photo: 2 November 2017Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) arrived in Sittwe guarded by armed security personnel

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Rakhine for the first time since violence erupted in the state in late August.

She is visiting the regional capital Sittwe and other towns during a one-day unannounced trip.

She has been criticised around the world for not stopping a military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, amid allegations of ethnic cleansing.

About 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August.

The unrest in troubled Rakhine was sparked by deadly attacks on police stations across the state, blamed on a newly emerged militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa).

Scores of people were killed in the ensuing military crackdown, and there are widespread allegations of villages being burned and Rohingya being driven out.

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A Rohingya village that was burnt on 7 September – Ms Suu Kyi said violence had stopped before then

Myanmar’s military says its operations are aimed at rooting out militants, and has repeatedly denied targeting civilians. Witnesses, refugees and journalists have contested this.

On Thursday, government spokesman Zaw Htay told the AFP that Ms Suu Kyi was “now in Sittwe and will go to Maungdaw and Buthiduang too”.

“It will be a day trip,” he added.

It was not immediately clear whether Ms Suu Kyi would also visit any Rohingya villages.

A Reuters reporter saw Ms Suu Kyi board a military helicopter in Sittwe on Thursday morning local time, the news agency reports. She was accompanied by about 20 people.

Ms Suu Kyi has recently outlined a new plan to end the conflict and bring more development to Rakhine.

She said this would be done by the civilian government, in partnership with local business groups and foreign donors.

However, international aid agencies are still not being allowed full access to the affected areas, the BBC’s Jonathan Head says.

And there has been no agreement yet with the Bangladesh government over how to repatriate the Rohingya refugees, our correspondent adds.

In a major speech in September, Ms Suu Kyi condemned rights abuses – but did not blame the army or address allegations of ethnic cleansing.

  • Reality Check: Are Suu Kyi’s Rohingya claims correct?
  • Myanmar conflict: The view from Yangon

The Rohingya, a stateless mostly Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Rakhine, have long experienced persecution in Myanmar, which says they are illegal immigrants.

Media captionWatch: Who are the Rohingya?

In September, Bangladesh announced it would limit the movement of the Rohingya, saying they must stay in fixed places allocated to them by the government and not travel elsewhere.

Bangladesh also said shelters would be built for up to 400,000 people near the city of Cox’s Bazar.

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