Suu Kyi attempts to deflect tough criticism over Rohingya on European visit


State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini during a press briefing at the European Commission after their meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 02 May 2017. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Aung San Suu Kyi encountered a number of tough questions on her visit to the European Union as she faced the media alongside EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The following is a transcript of the press conference she gave.

Media question: [After] years of house arrest, a lot of your audience is deeply disappointed with your failure to call out the acts of murder, torture and rape in your country and particularly the Rohingya minority, would you condemn that now and also there is very limited access to the media to the areas where these atrocities are taking place. Will you take measures to give free access to the media so that they can independently corroborate what has been reported by the people who have been the victims?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I am not quite sure what you mean by we have not been at all concerned in regards to the allegations of atrocities which have taken place in the Rakhine. We have been investigating them and we have been taking action.

Now for example you mentioned just now the question of media access. The first group of journalists allowed to go to the Rakhine, this was last year. I do not know if you are aware of the fact that among the people they interviewed there was one villager, one Muslim villager, who said that atrocities had not taken place in his village. That was all he was saying, that is in his village none of the alleged atrocities had taken place. And two days later he was beheaded by an extremist group who said he had been collaborating with the authorities. I am trying to give you an understanding of the difficulties that we have to face. This was just a simple interview with the media. He wasn’t saying anything more than atrocities had not taken place in the village and you do not know of this incident. We did publicise it but people are not interested.

We have to think of all the communities concerned. So, the second group of journalists we sent also came up with the same problem. One single journalists asked one villager about what had happened. And he said as far as his village was concerned, nothing had happened. And he too was killed sometime later. So, you have to be aware of the difficulties we face, the dangers we face in coping with the situation where two communities have been distrustful of each other for decades and decades. Actually, the problems of the Rakhine go back to the 18th century. We are not going to be able to resolve them overnight and all we ask for is time. We have not in any way ignored allegations of rape and murder or arson or anything, we have asked that these be placed before a court and tried. We are giving everybody an opportunity to take people to court and we have been trying to find out what happened. We have not sat there doing nothing. And I think that all those who live in Burma are aware of the fact that we have been looking into these. We have even instituted three special courts in the region to make sure that those accused of any crimes are not unfairly condemned in any way. I am a little bit confused when you say we have been nothing about it, because we have been everything we can all this time.

Media question: I just want to ask, I am sorry to press on this issue, what exactly has the high representative (of the UN) encouraged you to do with regards to the Rakhine and whether you believe any of her suggestions might be things you will be putting into practice, if there is anything specific you can tell us on this issue?

On talking about what we can do to bring real harmony and progress in that area. Now many of the suggestions the high representative made are very similar to the suggestions in Dr Kofi Annan’s interim report and if you read this, you will see in detail what he has recommended. And we have accepted his report as a whole and we are already implementing some of his suggestions. We can’t implement them all in one go but we are doing it as quickly as possible and we are giving him regular reports on progress and I think the high representative agrees with him that these are measures that have to be taken if we are to achieve stability and peace and progress in that part of the world.

One of the problems there is that it is a very poor and underdeveloped region in the country and everybody is afraid of everybody else.

Federica Mogherini: I can confirm completely what Aung San Suu Kyi just said. For us, what is essential that the living conditions of all communities is improved as a matter of urgency. Let me start by saying we condemn all, any forms of violence, including the ones that took place on October 9 (2016) and we did it I think as the first international actor condemning and publicly denouncing attacks on the security forces. We believe all communities need to see an improvement in their lives and we discussed mainly how we can better support the authorities in the country to implement the recommendations of the Anan report. This is for us the roadmap. We have appreciated the determination and the endorsement that the State Counsellor made clearly about the recommendations and indications of the Anan report and we believe that is the way forward. So the matter of fact is we are ready to support and we discussed practical ways including ways the European Union can help and support the full implementation of the measures indicated in the report.

Media question: What is the situation in the calls for an international investigation of the situation of the Rohingya?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Are you talking about the fact-finding commission, yes? We do not agree with it. We have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think the resolution is in keeping with what is happening on the ground. As I said earlier, we accepted Dr Annan’s recommendations totally because his commission went into the Rakhine State, studied the situation there and made his recommendations based on what he had seen on the ground. If we think that the recommendations are in keeping with the real needs of the region, we would be happy to accept them but those recommendations that will divide further the two communities in Rakhine, we will not accept, because it will not help us to resolve the problems that are arising all the time.

Federica Mogherini: The establishment by the human rights council and the decision to send a fact-finding mission is one of the very few issues of disagreement between us, if I can say so, actually I have not detected any other. We believe this can contribute towards establishing the facts of the past, provided, as we said, before we fully agree on the need to work together on the way forward. The fact-finding mission, to our understanding is focused on establishing the truth on the past, and we agree on the need to focus on the future and the implementation of the recommendations that are included in the Annan report.

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