Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi traveled to the troubled northern Rakhine state for the first time since the start of a brutal military campaign against minority Rohingya Muslims.
Aung San Suu Kyi met Thursday with the Rohingya Muslim community in Pandawpyin Village near Maungdaw. She also traveled to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and met with the families of the Border Guard Police Force at the Taungbro Bangladesh-Myanmar Friendship Bridge.
VOA's Burmese service reports Myanmar's de facto leader told Rohingya villagers she wants to see the reconstruction of their community, urging those tasked with implementing reconstruction plans to take villagers’ specific needs into account. She called on villagers to speak out about their needs and concerns before implementation begins.
Aung San Suu Kyi said she expects reconstruction to go smoothly and concluded her talk by expressing her eagerness to provide proper education for the children in areas affected by violence.
She also visited the Madamatine Myo village where ARSA Rohingya militants brutally killed eight native Myo last September. Madamatine village headman U Maung Tin told VOA Burmese the villagers were not able to directly voice their concerns due to time constraints, but they were pleased with Aung San Suu Kyi's visit during difficult times.
The Nobel Peace laureate has come under withering criticism from the international community over her slow response to the crisis. She initially maintained there had been “a huge iceberg of misinformation” about the plight of the Rohingyas.
The U.S. State Department says it will send a delegation this weekend to Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have settled after fleeing violence in the Rakhine state.
"The delegation is in the region to discuss ways to address the humanitarian and human rights concerns stemming from the Rakhine state crisis and improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance to displaced persons in Burma, Bangladesh, and the region," a statement from the department said.
A Rohingya militant attack on Myanmar police outposts in northern Rakhine in August prompted the military to launch a scorched earth campaign against Rohingya villages, creating a mass exodus of 600,000 Rohingyas from Rakhine into Bangladesh, many of them crowded into the district of Cox's Bazar. Nearly 60 percent of the refugees are children.
The United Nations has described the campaign against the Rohingya Muslims as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."
The stateless Rohingya minority have long been denied basic rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which views them as immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Myanmar is set to repatriate the Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but has accused Dhaka of waiting to begin the process until it receives $400 million in international aid earmarked to expand shelter for the refugees.
VOA's Burmese Service and Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.