‘We are committed to the restoration of peace, stability and rule of law throughout the state’ says Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in a nationally televised address. Photo is taken from CNN

Naypyidaw, Myanmar (BBN) – Aung San Suu Kyi has broken her silence on the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis.

In a live televised address, Myanmar’s State Counselor and de facto leader said that she was “aware of the fact that the world’s attention is focused on the situation in Rakhine State” and that Myanmar “does not fear international scrutiny.”

Suu Kyi, stood alone on a large stage in front of a packed auditorium of Myanmar government officials and high ranking militarily personnel in the capital Naypyidaw, began her address by underscoring the fragile nature of Burmese democracy and how little time her own party had been in power, reports CNN.

“After half a century or more of authoritarian rule, now we are in the process of nurturing our nation,” she said.

The addressing the situation in Rakhine State directly for the first time since the United Nations labeled the military’s actions there a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” Suu Kyi said that her government still needed to find out “what the real problems are.”

“There have been allegations and counter-allegations. We have to listen to all of them. We have to make sure those allegations are based on solid evidence before we take action,” she said.

“We want to find out why this exodus is happening. We’d like to talk to those who have fled, as well as those who have stayed,” she said.

More than 400,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority living in northern Myanmar, have fled since the end of August. From squalid and overcrowded camps in neighboring Bangladesh, they have shared stories of rape, murder and torture, allegedly at the hands of the military.

Suu Kyi did not mention the Rohingya specifically, instead referring in broad terms to Muslims and Muslim groups. Notably, her only use of the term “Rohingya” was in reference to the “Rohingya Salvation Army” which she claimed was “responsible for acts of terrorism.”


Suu Kyi said the recent violence is just one of many complexities her nascent democracy faces, likening it to a sick person who needs to be treated for multiple ailments.

“We are a young and fragile country facing many problems, but we have to cope with them all,” she said. “We cannot just concentrate on the few.”

The speech was conducted entirely in English, likely because it was intended for an international audience, according to Azeem Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide.”

“She wants them (the Rohingya) to come back … where are they going to come back to? Their houses and villages have been completely destroyed,” Ibrahim told CNN. “I think the international community should be deeply concerned after this speech.”


The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state thought to number about 1 million people.

Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens or one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups in the country.

Myanmar regards them as illegal immigrants, a view rooted in their heritage in East Bengal, now called Bangladesh.

Though many Rohingya have only known life in Myanmar, they are widely viewed as intruders from across the border.

According to Human Rights Watch, laws discriminate against the Rohingya, infringing on their freedom of movement, education and employment.

They are denied land and property rights and ownership, and the land on which they live can be taken away at any given time.

Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, despite the fact that many Rohingya families have lived in Rakhine State for years. Bangladesh considers them Burmese.

The Myanmar government does not use the term “Rohingya” and does not recognize the people as an official ethnicity, which means the Rohingya are denied citizenship and effectively rendered stateless.


Suu Kyi canceled her trip to the United Nations General Assembly this week so she could stay home and handle the situation in Rakhine State.

But some analysts wondered whether Suu Kyi was also trying to avoid the spotlight as she’s come under harsh criticism for ignoring the mass exodus of people from her country.

Human rights activists, fellow Nobel laureates and much of the world’s Muslim community have condemned Suu Kyi — a Nobel Peace Prize winner for her nonviolent resistance to the military junta that used to rule the country — for failing to use her position as a government leader and moral authority to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya.

Within the country, Suu Kyi remains popular. Polling conducted by the International Republican Institute this spring but released last month showed the government enjoys plenty of support.

“Burma is a complex nation,” Suu Kyi said in her speech. “Its complexities are compounded by the fact that people expect us to overcome all these challenges in as short a time as possible.”


Inside Yangon, Myanmar largest city, crowds gathered outside a large public screen to watch Suu Kyi’s speech.

The country’s democratically elected leaders — including Suu Kyi — remain popular, with many of her supporters accusing the international community of failing to properly understand the crisis.

At a rally in the former capital Monday, a few hundred people gathered to show their support for the government.

Some held placards of Nobel Peace Prize winner of Malala Yousafzai’s face crossed out, as the activist recently called Suu Kyi to act.

“Shame on you,” the posters said, in reference to Malala. “If you don’t know the real situation of Myanmar, better keep quiet.”


The Myanmar government has said its operations in Rakhine State are in response to the August attack and that the military is battling terrorists, doing everything it can to protect civilians, which Suu Kyi reiterated in her speech.

Others accuse the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, of responding with a scorched-earth policy.

Stories from those who made it to neighboring Bangladesh, however, paint a different picture, one of the military and allied mobs attacking the Rohingya indiscriminately.

“The Rakhines and the Hindus, they joined with the military. I watched them coming over the hill, like a team,” 50-year-old Khatun told CNN from Cox’s Bazar, one of the biggest refugee camps in Bangladesh. “I knew them, yet they were killing us.”

Inside the Kutupalong refugee camp, refugees told CNN they believe Suu Kyi has failed them.

“What Aung San Suu Kyi is doing is not good,” 45-year-old village elder Baser told CNN. “She is responsible for this violence.”

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), claimed responsibility for the August 25 killing of 12 security personnel in Rakhine State that kicked off the latest round of violence.

The Myanmar government has said its clearance operations are in response to the attack and that the military is battling terrorists and doing everything it can to protect civilians, which Suu Kyi reiterated in her speech.

Others accuse the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, of responding with a scorched-earth policy.

Stories from those who made it to neighboring Bangladesh, however, paint a different picture, one of the military and allied mobs attacking the Rohingya indiscriminately.