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Suu Kyi scraps UN trip amid Rohingya crisis

YANGON: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend the United Nations General Assembly later this month, her spokesman said, as the Nobel laureate faces a barrage of criticism over her failure to speak up for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Rakhine state.
A crackdown by Myanmar’s army, launched in response to Rohingya militant attacks on Aug 25, has sent some 370,000 Rohingya refugees scrambling across the border to Bangladesh in less than three weeks.
Bangladesh is struggling to provide relief for exhausted and hungry refugees – some 60% of whom are children – while nearly 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have been displaced inside Myanmar.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused Myanmar of waging a “systematic attack” on the Muslim Rohingya minority and warned that “ethnic cleansing” seemed to be under way.
There is also scant sympathy among Myanmar’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 the 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 UN General Assembly,” said government spokesman Zaw Htay yesterday, 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 planned to meet behind closed doors yesterday to discuss the crisis.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner garlanded for her dignified and defiant democracy activism under Myanmar’s former junta, was once the darling of the international community.
She made her debut at the UN assembly last year, winning warm applause for a speech delivered months after becoming Myanmar’s first civilian leader in decades.
In it, she vowed to find a solution to long-running ethnic and religious hatred in Rakhine “that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the state”.
In a sign of how far her star has fallen since, she has been blasted by the same rights groups that campaigned for her release from house arrest for failing to speak up in defence of the Rohingya.
Sympathisers say her hands are tied by the army, which still runs a chunk of the government and controls all security matters.
But fellow Nobel laureates have condemned her silence, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling it “incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country”.
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