Yangon/Singapore: Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi vowed on Wednesday to work for “peace and national reconciliation” amid mounting international condemnation of a bloody army crackdown on her country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner did not mention the violence in Rakhine state, but told a business forum in Singapore that multi-ethnic Myanmar needed to achieve stability to attract more investment.
Suu Kyi started a three-day visit to wealthy Singapore, the largest foreign investor in Myanmar after China, as international pressure mounted on her government to address the Rohingya crisis.
The army has carried out a bloody crackdown in the western state and thousands of the Muslim minority have flooded over the border into Bangladesh this month, making horrifying claims of gang rape, torture and murder at the hands of security forces.
Myanmar has denied allegations of abuse, saying the army is hunting “terrorists” behind raids on police posts last month.
Some 30,000 have fled their homes and analysis of satellite images by Human Rights Watch found hundreds of buildings in Rohingya villages have been razed.
“As you know, we have many challenges. We’re a country made of many ethnic communities, and we have to work at achieving stability and rule of law which you in Singapore take pride in,” the 71-year-old leader said.
“Businesses do not wish to invest in countries which are not stable. We do not wish to be unstable but we’ve had a long history of disunity in our nation. So national reconciliation and peace is unavoidably important for us,” she said.
Criticism of Buddhist-dominated Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya has been intense in Muslim-majority neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia.
Suu Kyi was scheduled to visit Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, after Singapore but postponed the trip in the face of public protests and a thwarted bomb plot against the Myanmar embassy.
A senior cabinet minister in Malaysia, Khairy Jamaluddin, on Wednesday called for a review of Myanmar’s membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations because of what he called its “large-scale ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will take part in a rare rally at the weekend to protest the crackdown on Rohingyas, an official from his office said Tuesday, as the United Nations rights agency reiterated its claim the stateless minority may be victims of crimes against humanity.
Suu Kyi led her party to victory in elections last year but, barred from becoming president by a junta-era constitution, instead holds a specially created post of state counsellor.
Myanmar Rohingya abuse may be ‘crimes against humanity’: UN
Suu Kyi appointed fellow Nobel laureate, former UN chief Kofi Annan, to head a special commission to investigate how to mend bitter religious and ethnic divides in impoverished Rakhine.
Annan began a weeklong trip to Myanmar on Tuesday.
He said that Rohingya may be victims of crimes against humanity.
The government has lashed out at media reports of rapes and killings, and lodged a protest over a UN official in Bangladesh who said the state was carrying out “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya.
Foreign journalists and independent investigators have been banned from accessing the area to probe the claims.
On Tuesday, the UN OHCHR said Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya could be tantamount to crimes against humanity, reiterating the findings of a June report.
More than 120,000 Rohingya have been crammed into displacement camps since sectarian violence in 2012, where they are denied citizenship, health care and education and their movements are heavily curbed.
“The government has largely failed to act on the recommendations made in a report by the UN Human Rights Office ... (that) raised the possibility that the pattern of violations against the Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity,” the OHCHR said in a statement.
Annan has expressed “deep concern” over the violence in Rakhine, which has seen thousands of angry Muslims take to the streets across Asia in protest.
But Aye Lwin, a Muslim member of the Rakhine commission, defended Suu Kyi’s handling of the crisis.
“What she has inherited is a dump of rubbish, a junk yard,” he told AFP, pointing out the army retains control of security and defence under a constitution written under the former junta.
“Her hands are tied — she can’t do anything. What she is doing is trying to talk and negotiate and build trust” with the army, he added.