Credit: AP Photo
Burma leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend the United Nations General Assembly later this month, her spokesman said Wednesday, as the Nobel laureate faces a barrage of criticism over her failure to speak up for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Rakhine state in huge numbers.
A crackdown by Burma’s army, launched in response to Rohingya militant attacks on August 25, has sent some 370,000 Rohingya refugees scrambling across the border to Bangladesh in less than three weeks.
The violence has incubated a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border.
Bangladesh is struggling to provide relief for exhausted and hungry refugees – some 60 percent of whom are children – while nearly 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have been displaced inside Burma, also known as Myanmar.
UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, accused Burma of waging a “systematic attack” on the Muslim Rohingya minority and warned that “ethnic cleansing” seemed to be under way.
Suu Kyi, Burma’s first civilian leader in decades, does not control the actions of the powerful military, which ran the country for 50 years before allowing free elections in 2015.
There is also scant sympathy among Burma’s Buddhist majority for the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim group branded ‘Bengalis’ – shorthand for illegal immigrants.
But outside of her country Suu Kyi’s reputation as a rights defender is in ruins over the Rohingya crisis.
Rights groups have pilloried the former democracy activist for failing to condemn the army campaign, which has left hundreds dead.
Rohingya refugees have told chilling accounts of soldiers and firing on civilians and razing entire villages in northern Rakhine state with the help of Buddhist mobs.
The army denies allegations, while Suu Kyi has also played down claims of atrocities instead blaming “a huge iceberg of misinformation” for complicating the conflict.
“The state counsellor won’t attend the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly,” said government spokesman Zaw Htay, using Suu Kyi’s formal title.
The spokesman did not explain the decision but said the country’s Vice President Henry Van Thio would attend the summit, which runs through next week.
The UN’s National Security Council also plans to meet behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, although China has indicated it will shoot down any attempt to censure its strategically pivotal Southeast Asian ally.