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Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar ready to take back Rohingya refugees after verification process

Breaking her silence on communal violence scorching through Rakhine state, de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday said that the national government was making "every effort to restore peace and stability" and is interested in conducting a verification process for the Rohingya Muslims forced to flee by army operations.

Suu Kyi reached out to the global community in a broad appeal for support over a refugee crisis that the UN has decried as "ethnic cleansing", urging outsiders to help her nation unite across religious and ethnic lines.

"Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world," she said. "We don't want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs or ethnicity... we all have the right to our diverse identities."

In a 30-minute televised speech, Suu Kyi said: "We condemn all human rights violation. We are committed to peace and rule of law. The security forces have been advised to adhere to code of conduct; to exercise all measures, to avoid collateral damage. We feel deeply for the suffering of all people who have been caught in the conflict. "

 Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar ready to take back Rohingya refugees after verification process

Myanmar's state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a televised speech to the nation at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Nay Pyi Taw. AP

Speaking in Nay Pyi Taw, the Nobel laureate said that the government had taken control of the situation and was determined to make recommendations which would "make speedy improvement in short span of time."

"Since 5 September, there has been no armed operation. Nevertheless, there are concerns among hundreds of Muslims. We want to find out why this exodus is happening. It is very little known that majority of Muslims have not joined the exodus," she said.

Suu Kyi skipped this week's UN General Assembly in New York to manage the crisis at home and deliver her televised address — the biggest yet of her time in office.

Hours before her speech, British foreign secretary called a meeting on the sidelines of the UN gathering, warning that the Rakhine violence was "a stain on the country's reputation" so soon after its transition to democratic rule.

It was a message that fell on deaf ears among the several hundred people gathered near Yangon's famous Sule Pagoda early Tuesday to watch the speech on a big screen.

Communal violence has torn through Rakhine state since 25 August, leaving hundreds dead and driving more than 410,000 of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar into Bangladesh. But Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has so far refused to speak up for the stateless Rohingya or publically urge restraint from the military.

Her intransigence in the face of huge international pressure has confounded a global community that once feted her as the champion of Myanmar's democracy struggle.

But inside Myanmar, supporters say the 72-year-old lacks the power to pull in the army, with whom she is in a delicate power-sharing arrangement.

In her Tuesday's address, Suu Kyi invited leaders of diplomatic community in joining the government's endeavours in Rakhine State as Myanmar continued with social development programmes."Hundreds of jobs have been created for locals. In terms of infrastructure development, electrification has been expanded. All people in Rakhine state have access to education and healthcare, without discrimination. Muslim students have access to higher education without discrimination. Humanitarian aid reached 95 percent affected."

Suu Kyi also said that the Myanmar government had invited former UN general secretary Dr Kofi Annan "to lead a commission that would help us resolve long standing problems in Rakhine."

She mentioned that a strategic plan was developed to move forward the national development process. "Some Muslim community leaders have decided not to join verification process. We urge other to convince them to join us in the verification. We also trying to promote inter-communal harmony. A new FM radio has been provided to inform on healthcare, education, national verification process," she said.

"Since 2016, local and foreign media groups have been given access to areas. Even after 25 August, government is working hard. The foreign affairs ministry and National Security Advisor of Myanmar visited Bangladesh in January. We were hoping visit of Bangladesh's home minister but that did not happen because of other commitments. We hope to take forward the security issue at the border," she added.

Suu Kyi made a call of refugees who have prepared to flee to Bangladesh. "Verification was setup as early as in 1993. We can continue verification of refugees who wish to return. And as our NSA has issued, which I can confirm now, we are ready to start process, and those verified will be accepted in the country without problem and get access to healthcare and humanitarian aid," she said.

She also addressed the global concerns on the situation in Myanmar. "As i have said, there have been no conflicts since 5 September. We too are concerned and want to find out the problem. There have been allegations and counter-allegations, and we have to listen to all of them. Culprits will be punished irrespective of race or religion."

Suu Kyi said that the government "emerged as a body committed to wear the defence of human right not particular group but rights of all communities."

"As we concentrate problems in Rakhine, I would like to remind you that there are problems as serious as us as what is happening in west of our country. We have been trying to develop peace," she said.

The UN has accused Myanmar's army of "ethnic cleansing" over a campaign of alleged murder and arson that has left scores of Rohingya villages in ashes. The army denies that, instead insisting its operations are a proportional response to the late August raids by Rohingya militants, who they label "extremist Bengali terrorists".

Since then just under half of Rakhine's Rohingya population has poured into Bangladesh, where they now languish in one of the world's largest refugee camps. A further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced — apparent targets of the 25 August attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salavation Army (ARSA) militant group.

With inputs from AFP

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Updated Date: Sep 21, 2017 17:08:28 IST