In Burma, Mixed Reactions to Suu Kyi’s BBC Statements

Burma, Myanmar, Arakan, Rakhine, Muslims, Buddhists, religious tensions, BBC, Aung San Suu Kyi

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is seen earlier this year at an event in Rangoon to honor a late Buddhist monk who played a leading role in Burma’s independence struggle. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has received a mix of condemnation and support from Burmese rights activists and religious leaders after denying that Muslims were the targets of ethnic cleansing in her country and saying that fear among Buddhists has exacerbated religious tensions.

In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Suu Kyi said inter-communal violence that has displaced more than 140,000 Muslims in Burma stemmed partly from an overall state of fear among Buddhists and Muslims alike.

“It’s not ethnic cleansing. … I think it’s due to fear on both sides. And this is what the world needs to understand—that the fear is not just on the side of the Muslims, but on the side of the Buddhists as well,” she said. “Yes, Muslims have been targeted, but also Buddhists have been subjected to violence. There’s fear on both sides, and this is what is leading to all these troubles.”

Suu Kyi, who has been criticized over the past year for not taking a stronger stance against anti-Muslim violence, added, “There’s a perception that Muslim power, global Muslim power, is very great. And certainly that is the perception in many parts of the world, and in our country, too.”

When asked about Muslims in west Burma’s Arakan State who have lived in squalid displacement camps since two waves of clashes broke out last year in June and October, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said Buddhists had also faced human rights violations for decades under military rule.

“There are many, many Buddhists who have also left the country for various reasons, and there are many Buddhists who are in refugee camps for various reasons. You will find them in Thailand, very many of them, and you will find them scattered all over the world. This is the result of our sufferings and a dictatorial regime. And I think if you live under a dictator for many years, people don’t learn to trust one another. A dictatorship generates a climate of distrust and suspicion.”

She called on the government to ensure accountability for perpetrators of violence.

“Instead of asking us, the members of the opposition, what we feel about it, what we intend to do about it—because you must see that we are not in a position to do the sort of things that a government must do—you should ask the present government of Burma what their policy is, how they are going about this problem, and how they intend to deal with it.”

During her visit to Europe this week, Suu Kyi on Tuesday traveled to France to receive the Sakharov human rights prize, which she was awarded in 1990 but could not accept at the time.

After her interview on Thursday, international Burma observers responded critically, while a UN rights envoy warned that anti-Muslim sentiments were threatening political reforms amid Burma’s transition from dictatorship.

“The situation in Rakhine [Arakan] State has fed a wider anti-Muslim narrative in Myanmar [Burma], which is posing one of the most serious threats to the reform process,”  Tomas Ojea Quintana told the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues, as quoted by Reuters.

Meanwhile, Burma observers including David Blair, chief foreign correspondent of The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, criticized Suu Kyi’s BBC statements.

“I never thought I would write this, but Aung San Suu Kyi sent a shiver down my spine when she appeared on the [BBC’s] Today programme this morning. Her equivocal attitude towards the violence suffered by Burma’s Muslim minority was deeply disturbing,” Blair wrote in an online commentary for the newspaper.

Others in Burma were more sympathetic to the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, who won the hearts of many in her country through her opposition to the military dictatorship that ceded power to Thein Sein’s nominally civilian administration in 2011.

In Rangoon, an editor of the country’s first human rights journal said Suu Kyi should have said more to condemn anti-Muslim violence, but that he could understand her decision to refrain from taking sides, with her eye on becoming the country’s next president in 2015.

“She spoke in a diplomatic way,” said Wai Yan Phone, editor in charge of the recently launched Journal of Human Rights and Democracy, published by the Myanmar Knowledge Society. “She doesn’t want to lose votes from the Buddhist majority and she doesn’t want to hurt the Muslims who were the victims of violence last year.”

He agreed that Naypyidaw had not taken enough responsibility to hold perpetrators of violence accountable.

“The government has a full responsibility to stop hate speech and to mobilize harmony among different religious groups in the country,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “But so far, only civil society has organized interfaith talks, while the government has been very inactive to address this issue. … And as we have read, security forces have done nothing, almost nothing to stop the advancing mobs from attacking the Muslims.”

He added, “I think she should have said more. When it comes to the issue, especially with the Rohingya [Muslims] and inter-communal violence, she is less vocal than she should be.”

Pyone Cho, who leads the human rights sector for the 88 Generation Students, a prominent group of pro-democracy activists, also supported Suu Kyi’s points about government accountability.

“We suggest that human rights groups should deal directly with government authorities on this issue,” he told The Irrawaddy, emphasizing that his views did not necessarily reflect those of his organization. He said he had personally urged Human Rights Watch not to describe violence in west Burma as ethnic cleansing, before the US-based rights group published a report earlier this year describing the June and October clashes as such.

Asked why he did not agree with the term “ethnic cleansing,” Pyone Cho said, “Because both sides were violated. Everybody should try to stop the problem peacefully.”

The inter-communal violence that broke out in Arakan State last year has been a major stain on the political and economic reforms of Thein Sein’s administration. Of more than 140,000 people displaced, a majority were from a Muslim group known as the Rohingya, who are largely denied citizenship by the government and accused of immigrating to Burma illegally from Bangladesh, although many Rohingya families have lived in the country for generations.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has grown since last year, with inter-communal violence breaking out in parts of central, east and northwest Burma. Earlier this month, west Burma saw renewed violence near the town of Thandwe. The Muslims targeted in these bouts of violence were not Rohingya, but members of ethnic groups that are recognized as citizens.

Kyi Twe, a leader of a Rangoon-based Buddhist association that helps educate monks, said religious tensions were rising during Burma’s reform period.

“I do not have much comment on ASSK’s answers. Basically I agree with her,” said the secretary of the Shin Thar Ma Ne Dhamma Beikman Thar Tha Na Wun Saung Association, whichholds annual examinations for novice monks and promotes Buddhist teachings.

“But I have something to say about the originating factor of the problem. In older days, Burma’s Buddhists and Muslims lived hand in hand, peacefully, for several hundred years. The problem is the modern way of Muslims’ teachings and actions, which have become so aggressive that no Buddhist can tolerate it anymore.

“Of course the government needs a strong policy based on mutual respect, and also improvement of the economy. The second most important and urgent action for the government is to safeguard the borderline. Make sure that no more illegal foreigners are allowed to get in.”

Meanwhile, Rohingya activists denounced Suu Kyi’s comments to the BBC as “absurd.”

“The Nobel laureate’s description of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar as a result of a ‘climate of fear’ is full of absurdity,” Wakar Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union, said in a statement on Thursday. “The violence in Myanmar has always been one-sided where Rohingya and Myanmar Muslims are the victims.”

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a humanitarian group which works for Rohingya rights, urged Suu Kyi to take more responsibility for speaking out against anti-Muslim violence. “It is easy to dismiss all responsibilities on the government,” she said. “All stakeholders, including the opposition and the NLD, have a role to play to address and challenge deep-seated prejudices against Muslims in Burmese society.”

Myo Win, a spokesman for the Burmese Muslim Association, said regardless of whether clashes in Arakan State could be classified as ethnic cleansing, it was clear that ethnic violence has occurred and tens of thousands of people had been displaced. “That unresolved problem still exists,” he said, adding that he agreed with Suu Kyi about the government’s need to take responsibility.

However, he was disappointed when the opposition leader, who—following a statement by the BBC that Muslims have borne the brunt of recent violence—responded by saying that many Buddhists had fled during military rule and were living in refugee camps in Thailand.

“I was hoping she would say Muslims have experienced the vast majority of suffering,” he said.

“Many Burmese Muslims have contributed to nation-building and have been well-integrated into society. This is also the case in the present time.”

24 Responses to In Burma, Mixed Reactions to Suu Kyi’s BBC Statements

  1. It is undeniable fact that the majority Burmans who are mostly Buddhists have deep-rooted prejudice or discrimination against the minorities either based on ethnicity or religion, are inferior or a threat to the majority Burman rule in Burma and it is sad thing to hear from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself reinforce such prejudice by legitimizing that such reckless killing of Muslims in Burma is out of fear of Burmese Buddhists or Bhudhism being under threat of global Muslim militancy. I have never thought that a globally acclaimed democratic icon like her would be such a naive person politically.

  2. People of the world must see the truth behind the violence. Muslims are no angels. Who started the violence? Buddhists or Muslims? Muslims ignited the violence. No one can deny that. Buddhists have to protect their wives and daughters from Muslim rapists and killers. When the Buddhists were angered by some Muslims, the wrath from the Buddhists fell on the Muslims. So, Suu Kyi stated truthfully in her statement with the BBC about the violence against Muslims in Myanmar. I will repeat it. Muslims are no angels.

  3. As I have always said, the way Suu Kyi is viewed in the West is quite different from the way she is viewed in Burma or China. She is trying hard to wiggle her way out of this dilemma by using non-committal diplomatic rhetoric. Sitting on the fence is a dishonest tactic but many corrupt opportunistic Burmese politicians do that – see how the wind blows and never being really truthful – some might thin it’s a clever strategy, but I think it shows lack of principles and conviction.

  4. I totally support Su Kyi’s answer to BBC question. She gave creditable answer.

    In fact, Muslims should bear the most of the trouble because they were the ones who started the trouble by raping Buddhist woman. They chopped people as if people were lifeless objects, no one, like Muslims, on earth would dare to slice people’s neck with knife.

    Bangali,or Rohinja, whatever you call it, they are clearly foreigners. They resemble Banglishi, let face it. They came from Bangladesh by bribing security forces.

    They are planning to flood Arakan state, and the whole country with Bangali kids since their birth rate is so high. They are producing offshoots/ offsprings as if from factory. This is very worrysome.

    Kosovo used to be Serbs, Christian majority region of former Yugoslavia. But just within a few decades, ethnic Albenian (Muslim) flooded the whole Kosovo with Muslim through births. This is welldocumented fact.

    Bangali in Burma are exactly doing the same. The Myanmar government should take more decisive measure on this. Current meassure is too soft.

    No need to care International opinion too much. Former Thai PM Thanksin was reported to have said, “UN is not my father” when UN criticized his war on drug policy.

    Thein Sein government can say “International community is not my father”. Let’s not be the slave of international opinion and media.

    Drive out the foreigners – Bangali……. Yehhhhhhh.

    • Ko Hlaing you have little knowledge of history and your perception is all wrong on Bengali community. Let me highlight with some data which may clear much of your doubts :-
      1. Hinduism is the oldest religion on earth.
      2. Lord Buddha was himself prince of a Hindu King before he started the faith denouncing some evil and misdoings of Hindu faith.
      3. We Hindu’s think Buddhism , Jainism , as a part of Hindu faith.
      4. Bengali community consists of Hindu’s & Muslims.
      5. In the past any Bengali were of Hindu faith.
      6. Forcible conversion by Muslim invaders converted many of these simple Bengali Hindu’s into Islam.
      7. You should know that there is a large state in India called West Bengal home to majority Bengali Hindu’s.
      8. Yes Bangladesh is home to majority Bengali Muslim’s but it is has now been converted to a secular state where all Buddhist , Muslim’s , Hindu’s , Christian’s have simmiliar rights.
      9. Yes it is true that the Rohingiya Muslim’s or the Bengali muslims of Araakan are creating national trouble to you but do not equate them with peace loving Bengali Hindu’s .
      10. Indian Hindu’s have played a strong role in building Burma’s economy and Burma was once part of India ( you should recollect )


      Monsum Mukherjee
      Kolkata , India


  6. “It’s not ethnic cleansing”. It is ignorance and extremism on both sides at best. The lethargic response at the local and state level to quell the communal violence in the Rakhine, Arakan State gave into these unfortunate perceptions.

    “I never thought I would write this, but Aung San Suu Kyi sent a shiver down my spine when she appeared on the [BBC’s] Today programme this morning. Her equivocal attitude towards the violence suffered by Burma’s Muslim minority was deeply disturbing,”

    Mr. David Blair seems to have a short memory or is suffering from Alzheimer’s and his reaction sent shivers down my spine. Has he forgotten that when Britain colonized India, the Hindu-Muslim riots were used by the colonizer as one of the checks and balances to keep the natives under control? If the English did step in, it was all about keeping the British interest afloat and to keep the commerce moving. But I guess David Blair could have done better: Divide and Rule.

    Daw Aung San Suu Kyii could have gotten more involved, but she is not the magic bullet to all of Myanmar’s problems and communal riots in Myanmar.

    The majority of the communal riots around the world have one common denominator and that is intolerance which largely falls on the Muslims. Be it from Timbuktu to Kathmandu from Jakarta to New Delhi, it is a snake that swallows it’s self and about to swallow others. Has David Blair reported on these situations, or is he an arm chair expert reporting on Myanmar from a comfortable office in London.

  7. by dal
    (on The Telegraph’s
    “How can Aung San Suu Kyi fail to condemn anti-Muslim violence”)
    • 3 hours ago

    Of course she condemns anti-muslim violence. But why didn’t she simply answer “Yes”? Because she knows well enough that it’s the only answer the media needs to twist the plot and cause friction between her and the buddhist community.
    Don’t you find it odd that she’s been only asked about violence towards muslims but not the other side of the story? I hope the readers can see the pattern of where that was going and the agenda involved.
    She’s the type of person who hates violence of any kind, but she’s also witty enough to know that the interviewer wasn’t going to ask whether she also condemns anti-buddhist violence and bombings.
    It’s sad that the media can purposely show only one side of the coin and hide the other,… then come up with a story different from reality.
    4% of musilm is a minority but in Rakhine state, that’s not the case.
    The Rakhine nationals only consists around 4% (or less) of burmese population and it’s always been a small population to begin with. The increasing Rohinger population due to lack of immigration control had pushed the Rakhine nationals back to the extent that now in some parts of the Rakhine state, the muslim community had become larger than the buddhist community.

    But in the end of the day, the root cause isn’t about religion nor racism, but the incompetency in immigration control during last few decades. Sadly it has deviated and manifested into a form of racial and religious tensions.

  8. Fear and mistrust is what CREATES the hate and violence that lead to genocide. EDUCATION and exposure to one another in a positive way is the antidote to that, and it must be done now, because what is happening is indeed genocidal.

  9. i, zainulabeideen tottaly agree with ASSK’ cmment on this violence.
    really buddist are fearing about MUSLIMS.
    There’s a perception that Muslim power, global Muslim power, is very great. And certainly that is the perception in many parts of the world, and in our country, too.

  10. -you should ask the present government of Burma what their policy is, how they are going about this problem, how they intend to deal with it-.

  11. She is telling lie.More responsible statement is required from her as a stateswoman.

  12. Why is it that when muslims are involved in any conflict, they are always the victims? Whether in Israel, Europe, Scandinavia, or America, they are portrayed as the good guys and everyone else is the bad guy. Their suffering is always so much more important then the suffering they inflict on everyone else.
    I have read so many articles on this conflict in Burma, and the Buddhists have not gotten support from anyone. They want to protect their culture and themselves. The muslims are the ones that have picked a fight they cannot win, yet they are supported while the Burmese are condemned by the UN, every human rights group and every NGO.
    It seems that even though the muslims want to destroy every culture in the world, no one has the right to complain or resist.
    As in every conflict involving muslims, when they push, everyone is expected to roll over. When anyone pushes back, then they become the aggressors ad the muslims are the instant victims.
    When the Buddhists resent the killing and raping of their young women by muslims, it is the Buddhists that are described by the media as rioters and rampaging mobs. The muslims are excused even though they are the rapists and murderers.
    I fully support Burma and the Burmese. They are the right to protect their weak and innocent. They have the right to protect their culture and refuse the islamic culture.
    The Burmese are completely in the right and the muslims need to leave, the sooner, the better.
    SarahSue USA

  13. “There are many, many Buddhists who have also left the country for various reasons, and there are many Buddhists who are in refugee camps for various reasons. You will find them in Thailand, very many of them, and you will find them scattered all over the world. ”

    It is surprising that Daw Suu Kyi, with her Oxford education, is unable to distinguish between the two cases. Buddhists who left the country did not have to do so because they were Buddhists. On the other hand, Rohingya have been forced to flee because they are Muslim.

    Her comments on the situation in Kachin follow a similar, disingenuous, line. “Both sides should stop fighting”. The tatmadaw, an oppressing and invading army intent on murder, rape and pillage on the one hand and an ethnic minority attempting to defend itself against overwhelming force on the other.

    It is shameful that a Nobel Prize winner is unable to distinguish between these very different situations.

    • Please, read all her answers and replied then you will understand what she mean.

      This is the result of our sufferings and a dictatorial regime. And I think if you live under a dictator for many years, people don’t learn to trust one another. A dictatorship generates a climate of distrust and suspicion.”

  14. Suu kyi wife of Aris (British)
    does not know, when her father was killed by U Saw (Karen)
    Two Muslim were martyred also; U Razak and his body guard…..
    Burma was part of British India administered by Calcutta The Capital of Undivided India
    The Civil Surgeon in Civil Hospital were Bengali Hindu and the rest of Indian, came to Burma in 1845 etc:
    Developed Burma
    Fear of Muslim was not The Issue then….
    History never lie
    The Muslim World is on Fire
    The Fear and Demonizing of Muslim, by Bush and Blair World over is, rippling in a Non Muslim
    Country Burma.
    Blind, Deaf and Dumb is hurting and adding fuel to the fire in Burma.
    Stitch in Time Saves Nine
    The Ten Muslim lynched and killed, travelling by bus in Arakan started The Carnage
    The Criminal Not Found?
    As the saying goes “YOU ARE YOUR WORST ENEMY!”
    Long live Burma
    Da Doh Pye…..

    • Harry,

      Nothing wrong about Daw Su married to Mr. Michael Aris who was Buddhist-British.
      Marriage was personal choice and marriage to British does not make her less her loves for her country.

      Who told you Galon U Saw was Karen ethnic?
      Saw is U Saw name and not an honorific title which use in Karen ethnic. Galon U Saw was borne in Tharrawaddy.

      Sayagyi U Abdul Razak was Burmese Muslim and borne in Mandalay. He was definitely not a Bengali Muslim and he didn’t vandalized country like nowadays Muslims in Burma.
      Sayagyi U Razak was patriotic person and he was assassinated along with Bogyoke Aung San and other Independent Martyrs. Everybody knows who he was and everyone respect and love Sayagyi U Razak.
      Religion and ethnic background do not deter from love and respect to someone who has done selflessly for country and his peoples (all ethnics in Burma).
      I hope Muslims in Burma will learn more about Sayagyi U Razak and his believe instead of boasting about Sayagyi U Razak was being Muslim and Burmese Independent Martyr.

      We have many Burmese-Muslim teachers and students in School when I was student in 60s. Also one of my teachers was Muslim and all student respect and loves him.
      Even we will go to his home and Kan-dawt (pay respect or doing obeisance) to him and his wife in Thidinggyut. He never said we are Muslim and we do not accept Buddhist custom “Kan-dawt”.
      Kan-dawt (doing obeisance or pay respect) to teachers and elders is traditional custom of Buddhist Burmese on special days of Buddha.
      In the past, Buddhist Burmese, Muslim Burmese, Christian Burmese and other religion faith followers were living in harmony but nowadays mostly young Muslims are insulting other religion faith followers and they do not show any respect to Buddhist Monks and Nuns.
      Muslims in Burma need to learn how to respect other religions and other races. They need to show sincerity and respect rather fault believing their religion is superior to other religions.
      Islam religion is youngest religion and mostly copy from Judaism and Christian.
      Buddhism is over 2500 years old and we never force on someone to convert to Buddhism. Buddhists always respect and accommodate other religions faith followers in our country and not like Muslim countries. Muslim countries do not tolerate for other religions. Muslims in Burma must learn how to live peacefully with other religion faith followers.

      The Ten Muslim lynched and killed, travelling by bus in Arakan started The Carnage
      The Criminal Not Found?

      You need to read Irrawaddy Magazine regularly to know about current affair in Burma.
      Get real and accept truth about Muslims have started problem which lead to communal riots in Rakhine state and other places.

  15. Myo Win should put himself in her shoes and try to understand what DASSK mean.

  16. Well, International Media though only Muslims were victim of current communal riots in Burma. They were fed with fabricated story by Bengali Muslim so called Rohingya.
    Negative view comes from group of Muslims and Muslim supporters. I don’t surprise about the criticizing come from Muslims and Muslims supporters at all.
    If they do not accept Daw Su views on Muslim – Burmese communal riots in Burma and then that’s their problem. I support 100% on Daw Su view because she tells the truth. Daw Su will not answer what they want to hear but they have to expect straightforward answer from her.
    If Medias, NGOs, UN, IOC and Muslim supporters think they can exploite Daw Su with her Noble Peace prize and then they are dead wrong about Daw Su.

    She was not denied or rejected about Muslims were target by Buddhist mob. If Muslims do not started problems and then there will be no communal riot between Burmese peoples and Muslim peoples in Burma.
    All the problems were started by Muslims. In Rakhine state, illegal migrant Bengali peoples stealing Rakhine farmers’ crops. They will attack on Burmese ethnics’ peoples. They will rape Burmese woman if they saw her alone in outside her village. Rakhine peoples are enough of their crimes. The Rakhine riot start by 3 Bengali men raped, muder and robbed Rakhine woman and then they started attacking on Burmese peoples and burned down Buddhist Monastery after accident in Taunggoke and same reason in Meithilar and Lasho communal riot. Burmese peoples have been subject to terrorize by Muslim for long time. Some of Muslims are trouble maker. If you accept it or not it’s true.

    I have visited the Website called Burma Time. In fact it was Bengali so called Rohingya Website. The Website distributes Bengali Muslim propaganda against Burmese Government and opposition leader. The Bengali Website should be named as Bengali Time instead of Burma Time.
    Crow is crow. Crow can not disguise forever as Peacock. Bengali wills never becoming indigenous ethnic of Burma because Burma never has Bengali or Rohingya ethnic in history. However, they can be recognized as Burmese ethnic in the benefit of doubt if Chittagong region was still under Burmese rule.

    Medias need stop using word ethnic cleansing and stop asking fabricated story from Bengali group.

    Tomas Ojea Quintana must stop advocating for illegal migrant Bengalis. He must stay neutral and report about truth but nothing else.

  17. The implication of her statement is very frightening for non-Burman living in Burma.

    Think about it. Burman takes out their fear and frustration caused by the ruling class, mainly former Burman soldiers, on the non-Burman. In this case, the unfortunate recipients are Muslims. God knows who else will fall victim to this unpredictable anger? Shan, Kachin, Chin, Hindu Kalar, Chinese, Wa, Christians? According to DASSK, such actions are understandable and justified, and should be respected by whoever sympathizes with the abused.

    Why wouldn’t the Burman face their fear and abusers, the military, instead of ganging up on the weaker? This is just pure cowardice. The ongoing genocide is the perfect example of the proverb “kalar ma naing rakhine meh” .

  18. I fully support Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement, as she words the sentiment of people all over the world. Blair online should clean up his own backyard first before commenting on others.
    It is a widespread sentiment of fear that drives people to resort to violence. It is not the right way, but it is understandable.
    Let’s open our eyes and read how much violence is caused by muslims all over the world. Civil wars, terrorism, kidnapping innocent welfare workers, attacking people who do not agree with them, and so forth. Reading all that one cannot but feel the fear for these outlaws. And unfortunately the majority is suffering due to those few. And the same holds for Buddhists. Now many people are looking at Buddhists as a whole group.

  19. The most lethal weapon on earth is not weapon of mass destruction or biological or chemical weapons BUT a humanity that has lost its sense of direction and descended into a state of Barbarity.
    This is what happening to our country.

  20. What happened in Myanmar is ethnic cleansing and stop calling ASSK a democracy icon, because she’s not. She’s is just a greedy politician who is looking after her own interest. Ask her who ended up on the boats? Buddhists or Muslims?

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