South Asia

Suu Kyi Asks For Patience For Myanmar At BIMSTEC Event

Myanmar's state counsellor said decades-old tensions cannot be resolved in a day in a very "young democracy".


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi with leaders of the other BIMSTEC countries. Credit: Twitter

Cavelossim, Goa: In her first public appearance in India since the National League for Democracy government came to power in Myanmar in March, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi appealed to “friends and neighbours” to understand the complexities of the volatile Rakhine state, noting that decades-old tensions cannot be resolved in a day in a “very young democracy”.

Suu Kyi arrived in Goa on Sunday morning and in the evening spoke at the BRICS outreach event with leaders from the seven members of BIMSTEC.

“Our region is confronted by numerous challenges including security threats including rising terrorism, violent extremism, climate change, natural and man-made disasters and even the danger of nuclear proliferation,” Suu Kyi said at the roundtable meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Terming “rising terrorism’ as a source of “common concern”, Suu Kyi said that the international community must be “united in standing together against all forms of manifestations of violence extremism relating to religion, cultural and social intolerance”.

She expressed sympathy “wholly” with India for the “terrorist attacks that took place not so long ago” – referring to the attack on the Indian brigade headquarters in Uri on September 18. It was in response to the Uri attack that India raised the stakes by conducting ‘surgical strikes’ against terror launch pads on Pakistan-occupied territory and launching a diplomatic offensive to isolate Islamabad.

The Rohingya issue

The Nobel peace laureate then drew attention to the recent attack on Myanmarese border police earlier this month by Rohingya militants, who had apparently been recruited and led by a Islamists trained in Pakistan.

On October 9, around 400 militants in a coordinated action targeted three Myanmar border posts along the border with Bangladesh and killed around nine soldiers.

“This has resulted in rise of mistrust and misunderstanding in those areas,” she said.

The Rohingya issue has been a source of friction between Dhaka and Naypyidaw, with Myanmar refusing to take back thousands of Rohingyas who fled sectarian violence into Bangladeshi territory.

But after this major border incident, Bangladesh had moved swiftly and arrested two of the attackers and handed them over to Myanmar.

On Sunday, Dhaka “unequivocally” condemned the attack and promised to help track down the perpetrators. “Bangladesh follows a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards violent extremism and terrorism of any form and manifestation,” said a statement issued by Bangladesh foreign ministry.

According to the statement issued by Myanmar’s president’s office, the interrogation of the two men in custody revealed that the attacks could be traced to Aqa Mul Mujahidin, which has links to the militant Rohingya Solidarity Organisation.

The leader of the new group was identified as Havishtoohar, who had apparently attended a six-month training course by the Taliban in Pakistan. He was living as a refugee in a border village in Bangladesh, with funds received from groups in West Asia. A Pakistani citizen named Kalis, who had also attended a training camp in Pakistan, was one of the active facilitators for this group, according to the government. “Around five months ago, through the arrangement of Havistoohar, Kalis came to Maungdaw and began delivering armed training classes to local extremist youths recruited and mobilised by Havistoohar,” said the statement from the president’s office.

Since the attack, the Myanmar government has poured troops into the restive state, with 29 people killed by security forces in the fortnight. This has ignited fears of reprisals, further exacerbating the tensions between the Buddhist majority, many of whom consider the Rohingyas illegal migrants from Bangladesh and not fellow citizens.

“We have been trying to resolve the issue while maintaining the rule of law, which is difficult for a very young democracy such as ours,” she said.

Myanmar media reports that residents along those border towns have fled further south due to the intensive fighting between security personnel and militants.

Suu Kyi has been criticised by human rights groups and commentators for not speaking out more strongly in the atrocities against the Rohingyas.

At BIMSTEC, she appealed for understanding. “We are ready to admit the difficulties that we have to face and we would like our friends and neighbours across the world to recognise the complexities of the situation that is a great challenge not just to our country but to peace and stability throughout the region.”

Calling for the need to “explore the cause of extremism,” which she said was the “root of terrorism”, Suu Kyi said that there was a vital need to “consider the situation in an objective and not in an emotional matter.”

The Myanmar government recently appointed former secretary general, Kofi Annan, to head an advisory commission to probe the communal problem in Rakhine. When he visited the Myanmarese province after his appointment, Annan was given a hostile reception by local Buddhist organisations.

“There have been communal tensions throughout many, many decades and these tensions cannot be resolved in a day. And as we have to build our democratic traditions alongside our efforts towards national reconciliation and peace, we have to work at several directions at the same time,” she said.

Suu Kyi asserted her government’s efforts towards communal peace were “truly genuine”.

“We have to take a step-by-step approach because our people are not yet used to the democratic process which requires responsibility as well as recognition of rights. Repeatedly we had to emphasise that democracy entails responsibility as well as rights”.

Suu Kyi left for Delhi on Monday morning to commence the three-day bilateral component of her visit. She will address a business forum on Tuesday and hold formal discussions with Modi on Wednesday.