Failure of Nobel prize winner to condemn brutal military campaign against Rohingya Muslims places the Lady at centre of global ire
When news came in early on the morning of 25 August that militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) had attacked police posts in northern Rakhine state, killing 12 people and ushering in a massive army crackdown, it did not take long for Myanmars new information committee to swing into action.
Myanmar has had other such committees in its history, as authoritarian rulers have sought to disseminate the truth as they saw it, as opposed to the version propagated by so-called enemies of the state. This one, a joint civil-military body, responded from an official Facebook page with breathless updates about extremist Bengali terrorists, alongside images of mangled corpses and World Food Programme biscuits touted as proof of aid workers abetting militants.
Humanitarian organisations said the statements attributed to Aung San Suu Kyi were putting the lives of aid workers in danger. Aid was halted. Bangladesh protested against the use of the word Bengali, used to imply Rohingya Muslims are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and summoned the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka, according to a foreign office source. The word was scrubbed as the officially sanctioned term for the militants.
And then the words state counsellor the Nobel laureates official government title were quietly dropped from the name of the Facebook page. The move, made as allegations of a brutal army crackdown on the Arsa insurgency were mounting, raised the question: where is Aung San Suu Kyi?
After decades of adulation, the longtime political prisoner known as the Lady now finds herself at the centre of global ire. Her face again adorns placards at protests across the globe but this time the chants are angry. An attempt to revoke her Nobel peace prize has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures.
The source of the anger is a brutal military campaign, initially against the Rohingya Muslim militancy, but which has, according to the latest United Nations estimates, forced some 270,000 persecuted Rohingya out of Myanmars conflict-torn Rakhine state into Bangladesh over the past two weeks. On Monday the UN said Myanmars treatment of the Rohingya was tantamount to ethnic cleansing.
As the numbers grow and the crackdown looks increasingly like a purge of a loathed and stateless ethnic group, a chorus of international figures and fellow Nobel prize winners have agitated for a condemnation from Aung San Suu Kyi that has not arrived.
If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep, the South African social rights activist and fellow Nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu wrote.
But diplomats and analysts told the Guardian that the state counsellor and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party have publicly and privately aligned themselves with the army that harangued and imprisoned them for half a century.
Some say the issue unites the country so completely that she has no choice but to agree. Others see her as a deeply moral figure hamstrung by the countrys fragile political setup, which reserves great power for the military. Others see a stubborn leader who is increasingly isolated from the western allies who once lauded and now castigate her.
The government is panicking, said one diplomat who like others spoke on condition of anonymity. Its a siege mentality, the envoy said. [Aung San Suu Kyi] feels attacked and shes defending her country.
Iceberg of misinformation
In newly quasi-democratic Myanmar the crisis has brought about a return to the rhetoric of the junta, early subscribers to the fake news defence, who derided western broadcasters such as the Voice of America and the BBC as sky-full of liars.
Statements released by the army and the civilian government have been almost identical. In view of how little agreement there is between the two principals the military and Daw Suu it is surprising how similar their messages are [on Rakhine], said another Yangon-based diplomat.
Some still insist that the people close to and appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi, some of whom are former military, do not wholly represent her.
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