RANGOON—Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi broke her more than two-week long public silence on the recent inter-communal violence, telling Muslim leaders this week that she would promote “rule of law” in order to end the virulent anti-Muslim attacks that spread last month.
“Rule of law and security for people are needed to tackle the problem,” Suu Kyi told leaders of several Islamic organizations during a meeting at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) on Monday.
“The law in our country has to be just. Everyone must be treated fairly under the existing laws. I want all our people to feel proud for being citizens of Burma,” she said in a short video recording showing part of the meeting, which was posted on YouTube by Burma VJ Media.
“I don’t want them have doubts like ‘are we citizens of Burma?’ I want them to feel this country fully protect us all,” said Suu Kyi, who also chairs the Lower House Committee for the Rule of Law.
When the violence raged in 11 townships in Mandalay and Pegu divisions from 20-28 March, the popular leader kept a public silence on the matter. NLD representative for Meikhtila Win Htein has said that Suu Kyi called the Mandalay Division Police Chief on March 21 urging him to end the clashes.
Violence first erupted in Mandalay’s Meikhtila town, where Buddhist mobs clashed with the local Muslim minority for three days, before the violence spread to 10 other townships.
The anti-Muslims attacks only ended after President Thein Sein in a speech threatened to use force to end the violence, which he said was being orchestrated by “political opportunists and religious extremists.”
The violence left 43 people dead and 93 hospitalized in Meikhtila, while 13,000 people were displaced. The government has been heavily criticized for doing too little to end the violence and failing to prosecute those responsible.
Muslim leaders said that during the 1.5-hour meeting on Monday Suu Kyi promised to work in Parliament on improving the rule of law in Burma, so that Islamic communities enjoy government protection and can feel safe again.
“We gave her a message that rule of law is an urgent need in the country, and asked her assistance, for she is the chairperson of Burma’s Rule of Law Committee,” Kyaw Khin, Chief Secretary of All Burma Muslim Federation, said on Thursday. “We are pleased with this meeting; we just wanted to give her this message.”
“She said she felt very sorry for what had happened and will bring the case to Parliament,” he said, adding, “She also told us keep our hopes high.”
It remained unclear who had initiated the meeting and NLD representatives could not be reached on Thursday for comments on the discussions.
It is not the first time that Suu Kyi has appeared reluctant to address ethnic and religious tensions in Burma.
She has also been largely silent during the recent escalation of the Kachin conflict in the north of the country, raising questions among ethnic minorities over her commitment to improving their plight.
The Nobel Laureate has also been criticized for not openly calling for protecting the human rights of Muslim Rohingyas in western Burma’s Arakan State. The group is denied citizenship by the government and authorities have been loath to let aid into the camps in Arakan State, where more than 100,000 displaced Rohingyas are staying.