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Aung San Suu Kyi’s Clearest Act of Complicity

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to the Rakhine State in western Myanmar on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters) 

By The Editorial Board
November 3, 2017

“We all have to try our best to live peacefully,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads Myanmar’s civilian government, said Thursday on a visit to Rakhine State, from where more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, escaping military repression so brutal that the United Nations calls it ethnic cleansing. The refugees have told harrowing tales of Myanmar forces setting villages on fire and massacring women and children, with hundreds of people killed.

Good-hearted people who once considered Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi a hero for resistance to the nation’s military government that earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, charitably interpret her failure to denounce genocide as a necessary accommodation to generals who still retain absolute control over security and the civil service. But to visit Rakhine State and say nothing about the crimes that occurred there is an act of complicity.

Her government has cynically offered to repatriate any Rohingya who can prove they lived in Rakhine State, knowing full well these people fled with little more than the clothes on their back, that many of their villages no longer exist and that there are no guarantees for their safety amid a hostile Buddhist population and a military that remains unchecked.

For the sake of Myanmar’s democracy, we must still hope that she can speak out, resist and be a force for justice. Meanwhile, the United States must keep the pressure on Myanmar’s military. A bipartisan proposal in the United States Senate would do that, by imposing targeted sanctions and visa bans against senior Burmese military officials and banning American military assistance to Myanmar until there is “significant progress” on human rights.

That progress must include guarantees that any Rohingya who wish can safely return to their homes in Myanmar and that aid groups can deliver assistance freely. There must also be an accounting for any crimes committed against civilians by the military.

That is the message that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should deliver forcefully when he meets with senior leaders and officials in Myanmar on Nov. 15 to address the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the beneficiary of international moral outrage and support during those years when she was under house arrest, may be in denial about the horrors suffered by Myanmar’s Rohingya at the hands of the country’s military, but the military leaders must know that the world sees clearly what they have wrought and will not stand idly by.

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