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Aung San Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar's Reaction To Rohingya Muslim Crisis


Let's catch up now on the situation in Myanmar. That country's de factor leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under attack for her response to the crisis in Rakhine State. That is where a military campaign against Rohingya Muslims has led to accusations of ethnic cleansing. Today, in a televised speech, Suu Kyi defended her country, which is also known as Burma. And she spoke of the difficulties it's faced since becoming a democracy.


STATE COUNSELLOR AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Burma is a complex nation, as all of you know. And its complexities are compounded by the fact that people expect us to overcome all these challenges in as short a time as possible.

KELLY: We turn now to journalist Poppy McPherson. She joins us via Skype from Yangon, Myanmar. Good morning, Poppy.

POPPY MCPHERSON: Hi. Hi, thanks for having me.

KELLY: Tell us a little bit more about what Aung San Suu Kyi said in this speech.

MCPHERSON: Sure. Well, she's appealed for patience, really, from the international community. She did say that Burma is not a country that's been soft on human rights, that the government is committed to the defense of human rights and not of any particular community's rights but of all human beings. And she said that those who violate human rights should be punished. But she's also said that Myanmar is a very young country and stressed that they face many, many problems.

There are long-running civil conflicts. So she's trying to appease the international community while really not coming out and saying that there are terrible things going on at the hands of the military, which is what many people want.

KELLY: Well, and - did she dispute in any way the scale of this horrific exodus we're witnessing - something like 400,000 Rohingya who've fled Myanmar across the border into Bangladesh?

MCPHERSON: Well, what she said - she said that at one stage, that it was not clear to her why people were leaving. She said that there had been no clashes and no clearance operations by the military since September 5. And so it was a mystery why hordes of people were leaving. And obviously human rights monitors on the border and others say that they can see villages - they can literally see villages burning and, you know, as...

KELLY: We should mention, she is - she leads the civilian government in Myanmar.


KELLY: Does she actually have authority to order the military to stop the campaign that is underway against Rohingya?

MCPHERSON: No, she doesn't have any control over what the soldiers do, essentially. They act independently. But at the same time, she hasn't said anything to differentiate the civilian government. And what she has said and what the rest of her ministers have said have, on the contrary, aligned the civilian government with the military. They're kind of standing in some level of unity, yeah.

KELLY: And just to turn to the human aspect of this, can you give us some sense of what is happening in Bangladesh with the Rohingya, the hundreds of thousands who have fled. What's the situation?

MCPHERSON: Yeah, well, people have been continuing to cross the border in recent days. I was there just last week. And people were arriving. They - some people had absolutely no idea where to go, what to do. They didn't have relatives in Bangladesh, and they were sitting on the side of the road. A couple of people were apparently reportedly killed by wild elephants. Wild elephants trampled into the camps, which are really shambolic. And it's a shambolic situation there. And it's very, very, very difficult for people who've just arrived fleeing horrible conflict.

KELLY: Poppy McPherson, thank you.

MCPHERSON: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Poppy McPherson reporting from Yangon, Myanmar on the situation underway there with Rohingya Muslims and the speech today by the de facto leader of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.