Amid the ongoing crisis with Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued a steadily defiant public address yesterday, effectively dismissing international claims of ethnic cleansing and other crimes on behalf of Myanmar’s military.

Over 400,000 Muslims from Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority in Rakhine state have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, and have spoken to international observers of rampant and widespread violence. There have been many reports of hundreds being killed, villages being burned to the ground, and rapes at the hands of the military.

Suu Kyi has drawn particularly harsh criticism over her handling of the crisis, as the Nobel Prize laureate has long been a revered symbol of nonviolent resistance for her many years of imprisonment on behalf of democracy in Myanmar. Some have described her as an “Asian Nelson Mandela.”

The military still holds significant sway over the politics and government in Myanmar, and Suu Kyi has steadfastly defended government actions in Rakhine state, justifying actions as needed against terrorist elements. The Rohingya Muslim population has long been a discriminated minority in Myanmar, where the government denies their citizenship, considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and whose Buddhist majority largely detests.

A wide assortment of rebel groups in Myanmar have been active for decades, with varying causes and allegiances. The latest round of violence began in August after Rohingya militants attacked a government outpost, killing 12. Islamist rebel groups have been fighting in Rakhine for generations, but radicalization has increased over recent years, and a number of terror attacks have killed scores of people. The government has used these attacks as justification for significant reprisals against the Rohingya, which the U.N. has characterized as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

The Rohingya are also accused of posing a security threat in India, where the government there has made a case in the Supreme Court that the Rohingya refugees have links to Pakistan-based Islamist terror organizations.

Image courtesy of Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom

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