Suu Kyi visits Rakhine as Rohingya exodus continues
Suu Kyi made her first visit as Myanmars leader to the conflict-torn region where more than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled state-led violence [AP Photo]
Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has visited Rakhine state for the first time since hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims began fleeing the country to escape a brutal military operation launched in late August.
Al Jazeera's Florence Looi, reporting from Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, said on Thursday that Rakhine state government spokesman said she was on the trip to "show there is stability in the region".
Myanmar government led by Suu Kyi's party, National League for Democracy (NLD), has downplayed the deadly ethnic violence in Rakhine state despite reports of continued exodus of Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Reuters news agency reported that thousands of desperate Rohingya wade through shallows and narrow creeks between islands of the Naf river to reach Bangladesh on Wednesday evening.
"The government has been trying to push the narrative that peace and stability has been achieved in Rakhine state after two months of renewed military offensive that began on August 25," Looi said.
The NLD organised an interfaith rally in Yangon on Wednesday to showcase Myanmar's multi-culturalism. But critics say that it was more of a public relations exercise as Rohingya crisis was not even mentioned at the event.
More than a half million Rohingya have taken shelter in Bangladesh fleeing arson, looting and gang-rapes allegedly being carried out by the military and Buddhist mobs. Military calls it "clearance operation" planned against Rohingya armed groups who attacked an army base.
The UN has called it "texbook ethnic cleansing" - a charge the Myanmar government continues to deny.
Suu Kyi has faced international condemnation for not speaking against the atrocities that the Rohingya have faced. Her government since succeeding a military regime has done little to address the plight of one of the most persecuted communities in the world.
The ethnic community, majority of whom are Muslims, have been denied citizenship rendering them stateless.
According to local media, she visited two villages in Rakhine's Maungdaw district – one of the worst affected by the anti-Rohingya violence.
"She apparently took questions from some Rohingya villagers and her advice to them was: 'when you encounter problem you have to let the government know,'" Al Jazeera’s Looi said.
But the Al Jazeera correspondent added that reports from Rohingya villages tell a very different story.
"They say they are still planning to leave for Bangladesh, because many feel that they cannot live peacefully in Rakhine state. They fear for their lives and they know what happened to their neighbouring villages," she said.
"People are still stuck in the so-called buffer zones between Myanmar and Bangladesh. They are left in a very precarious situation.
"It also underscores the point how difficult the situation in Rakhine state is despite what the government might say."
The minority group has suffered years of discrimination and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982 [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA