April 17, 2013
TOKYO – Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi defended her conciliatory political style Wednesday, saying her focus was on building a more unified society rather than making headlines.
Suu Kyi, visiting Japan this week, said many interviewers have asked her why she does not speak more forcefully about the plight of minority groups in her nation.
She said she has been addressing those issues, 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 colourful enough to please everybody,” she told a press conference.
“Actually I am not very keen on colourful statements. I am sorry if people do not find my comments interesting enough to acknowledge them.
“But I have been speaking a lot about ethnic nationalities and problems of national reconciliation in our country, except that I speak in a way in which, I suppose, most people consider slightly boring.”
The comments came as activists express disappointment that Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who was locked up for 15 years by Myanmar’s then-ruling junta, has remained largely silent about several episodes of communal bloodshed.
At least 43 people were killed in March as mosques and Muslim homes were destroyed in central Myanmar, in a wave of violence that witnesses say appeared to have been well organised.
The recent disorder was the worst since an eruption of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year that left scores dead and tens of thousands — mainly Muslims — displaced.
The Rohingya have been described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Suu Kyi said she has met with Muslim leaders and felt for their plight.
“It’s very sad because none of them had ever known any other country except for this one, except for Burma,” she said.
“They did not feel they belonged anywhere else and you are just sad for them that they are made to feel they did not belong to our country either. This is a very sad state of affairs.”
But, she said: “With regard to whether or not Rohingya are citizens of the country, that depends very much on whether or not they meet the requirements of the citizenship law as they now exist.
“Then we must go on and assess this citizenship law to find out whether it is in line with the international standard,” she said, stressing the importance of rule of law.
“We must learn to accommodate those with different views from ours,” she said.
Chris Lewa, the Bangkok-based director of The Arakan Project, a non-governmental organisation that lobbies for the rights of the Rohingya told AFP that many Muslims in Myanmar were disappointed Suu Kyi had not been more forthright in their defence.
“People like Aung San Suu Kyi who have moral authority in Myanmar should be clearer about the rights of minorities,” she said.
“She talks a lot about the rule of law, but that is not enough. We must protect minorities. Rohingyas had hoped that she might improve their lot, but they are beginning to lose hope that she can play that role.”
Suu Kyi said she aspired to lead the nation and hoped to build a society in which opposing views can be discussed.
“I have always said our country is poor in the culture of negotiated compromise. But it is something we must work at to achieve,” she said.
“I want changes in our country to be achieved through agreements between different forces in our country.”She said the current regime under President Thein Sein lacked a “structure” for its reform initiatives, such as the priority and sequence of what needs to be done.