State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrived on her first visit to conflict-battered northern Rakhine State on Thursday, an official said, an unannounced trip to an area that has seen most of its Rohingya Muslim population forced out by an army campaign.
Some 600,000 of the stateless minority have fled to Bangladesh since late August carrying accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of the Myanmar’s army, after militant raids sparked a ferocious military crackdown. The military has denied the accusations.
The UN says that crackdown is tantamount to ethnic cleansing, while pressure has mounted on Myanmar to provide security for the those fleeing and allow people to return home.
“The State Counsellor is now in Sittwe and will go to Maungdaw and Buthiduang too. It will be a day trip,” government spokesman U Zaw Htay told AFP.
It is her first trip in office to northern Rakhine, which has hosted the worst of the communal violence that has cut through the western state since 2012, severely damaging Myanmar’s global reputation.
It was not clear if Aung San Suu Kyi would visit Muslim villages in northern Rakhine, or if she would be taken to see remaining clusters of the Muslim group.
Thousands of others are believed to still be camped on a beach near Maungdaw awaiting boats to Bangladesh in increasingly parlous conditions.
Observers say Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen not to criticise the army in fear of a backlash from a powerful institution that controls all security matters.
The plight of the Rohingya also garners little sympathy inside Myanmar, making any defence of the minority a politically unpopular cause amid surging Buddhist nationalist sentiment.
Aung San Suu Kyi heads a committee charged with rebuilding Rakhine and repatriating Rohingya from Bangladesh who meet strict criteria for re-entry to Myanmar.