Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Suu Kyi tries to defuse Myanmar sectarian strife

Aung San Suu Kyi talks to Myanmar Muslims leaders at the National League for Democracy head office in Yangon June 6, 2012. REUTERS
YANGON (June 6, 2012): Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday urged the nation's Buddhist population to show "sympathy" with minorities following an outbreak of sectarian unrest in western Rakhine.

Ten Muslims were killed on Sunday in the majority Buddhist state, which borders Bangladesh, by a mob angered at the rape and murder of a local woman allegedly by three Muslim men.

The violence against Muslims, considered foreigners despite a decades-long presence in Myanmar, threatens to overshadow reconciliation efforts since a series of dramatic political reforms last year ended almost half a century of military rule.

Speaking to the media in Yangon, Suu Kyi expressed concern at the handling of the situation by local Rakhine authorities, in particular their failure to dampen anti-Muslim sentiment after the woman was attacked.

"If the very first problem was handled effectively and quickly, this flicker wouldn't have become a flame," she said.

Urging understanding between Rakhine's religious communities the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said "don't base your actions on anger" and called on the majority Buddhists to "have sympathy for minorities".

The Muslims died after a hundreds-strong mob attacked a bus on Sunday, believing the perpetrators of the rape and murder were on board.

But three suspects -- described as Bengali Muslims -- were already in custody, according to state media.

After her comments Wednesday, Suu Kyi met a group of Muslim men at her National League for Democracy party office.

One of the men said he wanted reassurances from Suu Kyi that she would help defuse tensions.

"I felt worried for future because of those issues... I now feel quite relieved after meeting her," he said.

Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims occur periodically in Myanmar, and Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh is a flashpoint for tensions.

In February 2001, the then-ruling junta declared a curfew in the Rakhine State capital city Sittwe after violent riots broke out between Muslims and Buddhists.

Buddhists make up some 89 percent of the population of Myanmar, with Muslims officially representing four percent. – AFP

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