SINGAPORE: Aung San Suu Kyi’s response to the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims is “indefensible”, Malaysia’s leader said on Tuesday in a withering criticism of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate shortly before sharing a stage with her.
Mahathir Mohamad, 93, said he was “very disappointed” by Suu Kyi’s failure to defend the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority driven from Myanmar in their hundreds of thousands last year by an army campaign that UN investigators say amounted to genocide.
Mahathir made his remarks less than an hour before standing alongside Suu Kyi for a stoney-faced photo shoot at the start of the Asean regional summit in Singapore, the kind of diplomatic gathering where she was once feted by contemporaries as a beacon of democracy.
“Someone who has been detained before should know the sufferings and should not inflict it on the hapless,” Mahathir told reporters in a reference to Suu Kyi’s long years of house arrest under Myanmar’s military junta.
“But it would seem that Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible,” he added.
Suu Kyi has failed to clearly condemn Myanmar’s army for its crackdown and has instead cast doubt on the veracity of Rohingya testimony of atrocities.
Mahathir, the outspoken leader of Malaysia — a majority Muslim country — also appealed to Myanmar to accept Rohingya as citizens.
“When Malaysia became independent in 1957, we had people of foreign origin…. but we accepted all of them,” he said.
“They are now citizens, they play a full role in the politics of the country, they are free they are not detained because of race or any thing like that.”
Rohingya flee camps: Meanwhile, Rohingya Muslims are fleeing Bangladeshi refugee camps to avoid a controversial drive to repatriate them to Myanmar later this week, where the UN says conditions are still not conducive to their return.
Authorities plan to begin returning Rohingya refugees to the Buddhist majority country from Thursday.
But the prospect has created panic in the camps, prompting some families who were due to be among the first to be repatriated to flee, according to community leaders.
“The authorities repeatedly tried to motivate the ones on the returning refugee list to go back. But instead, they were intimidated and fled to other camps,” said Nur Islam, from Jamtoli refugee camp. — AFP