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Criticism Grows Against Aung San Suu Kyi Over Rohingya Crisis

Sep 14, 2017
Originally published on September 14, 2017 5:39 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to an update on the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, where the government is persecuting Rohingya Muslims who live there. The Rohingya are essentially a stateless population. They've become the targets of Myanmar's military again after an insurgent Rohingya group attacked a number of police stations in Rakhine state.

The military has since gone into these villages and engaged in what's being described as indiscriminate shooting. They've also burned down homes. The violence has drawn the attention of the U.N. Security Council. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called what's happening there ethnic cleansing.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: This is a dramatic tragedy. People are dying and suffering at horrible numbers, and we need to stop it.

MARTIN: Almost 400,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks. We're joined now by reporter Michael Sullivan, who's been covering all this from Bangkok.

Michael, thanks for being here.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: How did this latest exodus of the Rohingya from Myanmar start?

SULLIVAN: August 25, the series of attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts and an army base - and Myanmar's military responded with what it calls clearance operations to get rid of the terrorists. The militant group in question is called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, and they say they're just trying to defend their people against Myanmar's military, to fight for their rights against a government that says they don't really have any. And the group also says it has no links to any foreign groups such as al-Qaida or the Islamic State because that's a narrative Myanmar's government keeps trying to push.

MARTIN: So that's worth noting. The Rohingya have been fighting back - at least this militant group - and the government of Myanmar has been suggesting that they're connected to al-Qaida.

SULLIVAN: The government has been trying to push this narrative of this being sort of a religious war, I guess you could say, yes. I mean, I think it's hard to call such a lopsided conflict a war, but it's definitely about us versus them. And the us in this case is the Buddhist majority, many of whom see the Rohingya as outsiders who don't belong, even though many have been in Myanmar for generations. But they don't want them. They're afraid they're going to be overrun by Muslims. Is it about ethnicity, or race, or religion or all of them? I'd say probably all of it.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, famous human rights activist - she has been noticeably quiet on this issue.

SULLIVAN: She has been for the reasons we just talked about. I mean, she risks alienating a huge Buddhist voting bloc, so she can't speak out forcefully against the violence for political reasons, even if she wanted to. And she can't make the military stop anyway because she has no control over them. So her office says she's going to have a speech next week about reconciliation and peace. Of course, by then, who knows how many Rohingya will be left in Myanmar.

MARTIN: And these comments by the U.N. secretary-general calling this ethnic cleansing, ratcheting up the pressure on the government - is that likely to make any difference?

SULLIVAN: I don't think it's going to make much of a difference. The Myanmar military doesn't have much of a history of listening to the international community. It pretty much has done what it's wanted to for many, many decades. And I think it's going to keep doing what it wants to until it's done.

MARTIN: Reporter Michael Sullivan, he is following all the developments in the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, where the government there is persecuting the Muslim minority group the Rohingya. Michael, thanks so much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.