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Aung San Suu Kyi visits Rakhine, triggers skepticism

By casting Rohingya crisis as a 'quarrel' and conducting a one-day tour she has opened herself to further criticism
Aung San Suu Kyi visits Rakhine, triggers skepticism

Rohingya women cross the Naf River to enter Bangladesh at Shah Porir Dwip Island of Cox's Bazar on Sept. 13. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

Published: November 03, 2017 10:47 AM GMT
Updated: November 03, 2017 10:53 AM GMT

The visit by Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Rakhine State on Nov. 2 has failed to stem anger and frustration felt in the strife-torn state or in neighboring Bangladesh where more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to over the past ten weeks.

During her one-day visit, Suu Kyi met both Rohingya and Rakhine villagers, telling them to "maintain peace" and "not to quarrel," reported local media. Travelling in two military helicopters, the Nobel laureate was accompanied by about 20 people including army, police and state officials.

A Rohingya resident from Pan Taw Pyi village said he was one of 150 Rohingya present during a 15-minute surprise meeting with Suu Kyi.  

"She talked about education, healthcare, development and agriculture and urged the community to collaborate with the government for the prosperity of the state," said the Rohingya man, who asked to remain anonymous in fear of repercussions from local authorities.

The man told ucanews.com that Suu Kyi also said her government will reconstruct some of the houses in the village that had been burned down by security forces and a Rakhine mob. At least 150 houses were burned to the ground in the village, according to Rohingya residents.

Sultan, a Rohingya from Maungdaw, sees Suu Kyi visit as an effort to appease the international community.  

"Suu Kyi has to work with the military, she can't implement things that she wants without agreement with the military," said Sultan, a former schoolteacher.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project that advocates for the rights of the Rohingya, told ucanews.com that a Rohingya religious leader told her that "Suu Kyi did not mention anything about citizenship rights so the community was disappointed."

Lewa said that about 8,000 Rohingya were still stuck at an area between the two countries and that Bangladesh had delayed allowing them in. In the southern part of Maungdaw, there are still people waiting to cross the Naf River in two locations: Pa Nyaung Pyin Gyi and Ale Than Kyaw Kanyin Tan, she said.

Some people have been stuck in Pa Nyaung Pyin Gyi for nearly a month, as they had no money to pay boatmen to cross, said Lewa.


A Rohingya man carries his elderly mother upon reaching Shah Porir Dwip Island off Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Sept. 13. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)


Bangladesh camps

Rohingya now living in Bangladesh camps said they see Suu Kyi's visit as a "positive sign" but remain skeptical of her true intentions regarding the Rohingya.

"We neither wanted a 'quarrel' with Buddhists nor did we attack anyone," said Bilkis Begum, 42, a Rohingya mother of five. "So, why did the military and Buddhists kill our dear ones, burn down our homes and force us to flee?" she asked.  

"If she wants to establish peace, she must hold those accountable who destroyed peace, no matter if it is the military, Buddhists or Rohingya militants," she said.

Along with 15 members of her family, Bilkis fled their home in the Maungdaw area of Rakhine in mid-October. Now, they reside at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.

She said the military and Rakhine Buddhists killed her mother and two brothers and their bodies were burned.

"It is good to see Suu Kyi has finally visited Rakhine but we are doubtful about her true intentions. Without international pressure we don't think Myanmar would take us back and live in peace," she said.

Lutfor Rahman, 55, a farmer from Buthidaung fled to Bangladesh in October. He now also lives in Balukhali camp with 10 family members.

Rahman sees Suu Kyi's visit to Rakhine as being a positive, even though it has occurred weeks after violence first flared. But he was frustrated that she didn't mention the repatriation of Rohingya.

"It is good to see she is finally there. But I am not convinced that she will help restore peace in Rakhine and get us back home, as she didn't condemn atrocities against the Rohingya and didn't mention our repatriation," Rahman told ucanews.com.   

Ranjon Francis Rozario, assistant executive director of Caritas Bangladesh, criticized Suu Kyi for what he sees is "a visible lack of sympathy for the Rohingya."

"Suu Kyi is a Nobel laureate and she must take concrete actions to end violence against Rohingya and to repatriate them peacefully," he said. "Instead, she sums up 'Rohingya genocide' into a silly term like a 'quarrel,' it is disgraceful of her and we are forced to cast doubt on her promises of peace and repatriation," Rozario told ucanews.com.

A.K.M. Jahangir, a local politician in the Gumdhum area in Bandarban district near the Tambru border zone was also critical of Suu Kyi.

"It's clear from her words and actions that all she is doing is just 'window-dressing,'" said Jahangir, chairman of Gumdhum Union Council, a local government body.

"Rohingya have endured genocide in Myanmar and she doesn't seem to be bothered by their plight at all," he said.  

"I don't see any hope in her visit and have doubts whether she will really help with repatriation of the Rohingya."

Caritas, the church's social service arm, has been a leading aid group in assisting Rohingya refugees. The agency has been providing food and non-food items to up to 70,000 refugees for two months and plan to help with housing, medical and education for children.

James Gomes, Caritas Chittagong regional director, said the Rohingya influx is continuing.

"At least 2,000 Rohingya arrived yesterday (Nov. 2) and we came to know that many are waiting to cross the border on the Myanmar side," Gomes told ucanews.com.

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