Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to condemn Burmese military's handling of Rohingyas and said the government needed to assess allegations and counterallegations of atrocities "to find out what the real problems are" during her speech on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar on Tuesday.
Speaking in Naypyidaw, the country's capital, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was "aware" of the world's attention on the situation in Rakhine state but that her country "does not fear international scrutiny."
"There have been allegations and counterallegations," she said. "We have to listen to all of them. We have to make sure those allegations are based on solid evidence before we take action."
As many as 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Rakhine state. The United Nations described the situation as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".
Despite international criticism, the Nobel prize winner had been silent for nearly a month, and had decided not to attend the UN summit in New York this week. The Burmese government has refused a UN fact-finding mission entry into Rakhine province.
Aung San Suu Kyi said there had been "no armed clashes or clearance operations" since Sept. 5. But Rohingya villagers told BuzzFeed News the violence continued.
Reyhana Begum, 25, said she was forced to flee with her toddler Enam after soldiers torched her village. She gave birth to a son en route – her mother-in-law had to cut the umbilical cord with a razor.
“There were so many people who died on the journey when they were hit by bullets,” she said, describing how their bodies lay where they fell. “There was no one to bury them.”
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday 214 Rohingya villages had been destroyed, and as recently as Sept. 17 observers witnessed armed men torching villages.
"We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict."
In her speech, she promised that those who had fled could return to Myanmar with the relevant paperwork. She said many Muslims remained in the province, and that the government had made efforts in recent years to improve the education and health care rights of the community.
Her words are unlikely to stem international criticism. Amnesty International accused Aung San of "burying her head in the sand," in a statement following her speech.
Observers pointed out that many Rohingya would have lost — and were unlikely to have had in the first place — the paperwork that would allow them to return.
The violence in Rakhine state is not new. Rohingya Muslims have faced years of abuse from authorities, who do not recognize them as Burmese citizens. The latest violence erupted in August and has been blamed on the insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which attacked a number of military and police posts.
The indiscriminate military crackdown that followed caused hundreds of thousands to flee across the Bangladeshi border for safety. Most remain in camps, and desperately lack food and medical attention.
Rose Troup Buchanan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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