Suu Kyi makes first UN speech, appeals for understanding as Myanmar wrestles with sectarian issues
Former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi made her first speech Wednesday at the UN General Assembly since forming a democratically elected government and called for international understanding as Myanmar grapples with sectarian tensions.
Suu Kyi said the new government was “standing firm against the forces of prejudice and intolerance” in troubled Rakhine state, where longstanding discrimination by majority Buddhists against Muslim Rohingya exploded into bloody violence in 2012. More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, are still in displacement camps.
“Over the last few years, the world has focused its attention on the situation in the Rakhine State. As a responsible member of the community of nations, we do not fear international scrutiny. We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the state,” Suu Kyi said.
Suu Kyi did not mention Rohingya by name in her speech. It’s a contentious issue among Buddhists in Rakhine, who consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and customarily call them “Bengali.”
Her appearance at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations is the latest landmark in a personal and national transformation as the country also known as Burma emerges from five decades of military rule.
Suu Kyi, 71, is the daughter of Myanmar’s founding father, and spent some 15 years in detention, mostly house arrest, when she led the pro-democratic opposition.
Political reforms began five years ago, culminating in an election last November, won by her party. Although a junta-era constitution still bars her from the presidency and the military remains politically powerful, she has the title of state counsellor and effectively heads the government.
The Nobel peace laureate said that through the election, the people of Myanmar exercised their right to fashion their dreams and aspirations for their country. She said national reconciliation in Myanmar — an ethnically diverse country riven by long-running civil conflict — is her government’s highest priority.
Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan is leading an advisory panel aimed at finding “lasting solutions” to the conflict in Rakhine state. Suu Kyi said nine-member commission will cover humanitarian, development, basic rights and security issues there.