Aung San Suu Kyi Silent on Rohingya, Blasts 'Iceberg of Misinformation' Aimed at Aiding 'Terrorists'

Muslim countries and the UN chief are all pressuring the Myanmar leader to act amid rising violence

File photo: Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi listening to a journalist's question during a joint press conference with the UN secretary general in Naypyidaw, August 30, 2016
File photo: Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi listening to a journalist's question during a joint press conference with the UN secretary general in Naypyidaw, August 30, 2 ROMEO GACAD/AFP

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday blamed "terrorists" for "a huge iceberg of misinformation" on the violence in Rakhine state but made no mention of the nearly 126,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled over the border to Bangladesh since August 25.

The leader of Buddhist-majority Myanmar has come under pressure from countries with Muslim populations over the crisis, and on Tuesday UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing and regional destabilization.

In a rare letter expressing concern that the violence that has raged for nearly two weeks in the northwestern state could spiral into a "humanitarian catastrophe", Guterres urged the UN Security Council to press for restraint and calm.

Suu Kyi spoke by telephone on Tuesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed world leaders to do more to help a population of roughly 1.1 million he says are facing genocide.

In a statement issued by her office on Facebook, Suu Kyi said the government had "already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible" and warned against misinformation that could mar relations with other countries.

She referred to images on Twitter of killings posted by Turkey's deputy prime minister that he later deleted because they were not from Myanmar.

"She said that kind of fake information which was inflicted on the deputy prime minister was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different countries and with the aim of promoting the interests of the terrorists," her office said in the statement.

A Rohingya refugee girl lies on the ground as she suffers from dehydration after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 5, 2017.
MOHAMMAD PONIR HOSSAIN/REUTERS

The latest violence in Rakhine state began 12 days ago when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi has been accused by Western critics of not speaking out for the minority that has long complained of persecution, and some have called for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 as a champion of democracy to be revoked.

Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against "terrorists" responsible for a string of attacks on police posts and the army since last October.

Myanmar officials blame Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths. But rights monitors and Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh say the Myanmar army is trying to force them out with a campaign of arson and killings.

Reuters reporters saw hundreds more exhausted Rohingya arriving on boats near the Bangladeshi border village of Shamlapur on Tuesday, suggesting the exodus was far from over.

The latest estimate of the numbers that have crossed into Bangladesh, based on calculations by UN workers, is 125,960, some 80 percent of whom are women and children.