Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi says there has been “a huge iceberg of misinformation” about the violence in her country's Rakhine state that has forced nearly 125,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
In a statement posted on Facebook Wednesday by her office, the Nobel Peace laureate said she spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday about the crisis. The statement said Aung San Suu Kyi discussed a series of photos posted on Twitter by Turkey's deputy prime minister that allegedly showed dead Rohingya that were later proved to be unrelated to the current violence.
She told Erdogan that “fake information” is promoting the interests of “terrorists,” a word she used to describe a group of Rohingya insurgents who launched a series of attacks on security posts in Rakhine state that triggered the crisis.
Amnesty International condemned the statement Wednesday, calling it "unconscionable" in the human rights watchdog's official response.
"In her first comments on the crisis, instead of promising concrete action to protect the people in Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be downplaying the horrific reports coming out of the area,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.
At least 400 people have been killed since a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of attacks on police posts in Rakhine, which is home to most of the Rohingya minority group. The police responded with attacks on villages to hunt down the insurgents.
In a related tragedy, authorities in Bangladesh said at least five people drowned when a boat carrying a group of Rohingyas capsized Wednesday morning as it was sailing in the waters separating the two countries.
Turkey’s Erdogan voices concern
Erdogan has led a growing chorus of international leaders urging Aung San Suu Kyi to end the violence and ensure the protection of the Rohingya, who are considered to be Bangladeshi migrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and are denied citizenship, even if they can show that their families have been in Myanmar for generations. The crisis appears to be steadily diminishing Aung San Suu Kyi's longheld status as a human rights icon.
In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, thousands of people demonstrated outside the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta Wednesday demanding an end to the suffering of the Rohingya.
In a statement posted on her official Twitter account, activist Malala Yousafzai called on her fellow Nobel laureate to condemn the violence against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
“If their home is not Myanmar, where they have lived for generations, then where is it?” she asked.
U.N.’s Guterres fears ethnic cleansing
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced concern Tuesday about the potential for ethnic cleansing against the minority Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
“I think that we are facing a risk; I hope we don't get there,” said Guterres, when asked whether the human rights situation in Rakhine constituted ethnic cleansing. The secretary-general also appealed to the civilian and military authorities in Myanmar to put an end to the violence he said is creating a situation that can destabilize the region.
Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, urged the international community to mount pressure on Myanmar to stop pushing the Rohingya into Bangladesh and take back the refugees. Bangladesh's border guards have detained more than 2,600 Rohingya entering Bangladesh, and nearly 2,000 have been sent back to Myanmar this week, sources have told VOA Bangla.
Bangladeshi border guards and locals have confirmed reports by Rakhine state residents that explosions rocked areas near the border, accompanied by thick black smoke and the sound of gunfire.
Quoting two unnamed government sources in Dhaka, Reuters news agency says Myanmar military forces have been laying landmines across a section of its shared border with Bangladesh for the past three days. The sources say the purpose of the landmines is allegedly to prevent the fleeing Rohingya from returning.
India’s Modi visits Myanmar
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began a two-day state visit to Myanmar Tuesday on his way back from China, where he attended a summit with leaders of emerging economies. Modi, who is also trying to expand commercial and strategic ties in Myanmar, is expected to take up the issue of the Rohingya with Aung San Suu Kyi. India has said it wants to deport about 40,000 Rohingya who left Myanmar over the years.
Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims has flared periodically for more than a decade. Until last month's attacks, the worst violence occurred last October, when insurgents attacked several police posts, sparking a military crackdown that sent thousands fleeing to Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government has denied allegations of abuse against the Rohingya and limited access to Rakhine to journalists and other outsiders; but, the country’s ambassador to the United Nations says the government plans to implement the recommendations from a U.N. commission to improve conditions and end the violence.
VOA Burmese, VOA Bangla and Victor Beattie contributed to this report.