Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has asked to be given “enough space” to address the plight of her country’s Rohingya Muslim population, as visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed the Nobel laureate to promote respect for human rights.
About 125,000 Rohingya in Myanmar remain displaced and face severe travel restrictions in camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine State between the country’s Buddhists and Muslims in 2012.
The United States has long supported Suu Kyi’s role in championing democratic change in Myanmar, but was surprised this month when she suggested to the new U.S. ambassador Scot Marciel to refrain from using the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority.
“Emotive terms make it very difficult for us to find a peaceful and sensible resolution to our problems,” Suu Kyi told reporters at a joint news conference with Kerry in Naypyitaw on Sunday.
“All that we are asking is that people should be aware of the difficulties we are facing and to give us enough space to solve all our problems.” She added.
Kerry said he had discussed the Rohingya issue with Suu Kyi during their meeting, describing it as “very sensitive” and “divisive.”
“I know it arises strong passions here,” Kerry said. “What is critical to focus on is solving the problem…which is improving the situation on the ground, to promote development, promote respect for human rights and benefit all of those that live in Rakhine and throughout Myanmar.”
Last month hundreds of demonstrators protested in front of the U.S. Embassy in Yangon in objection to the use of the term Rohingya in a statement issued by the embassy.
Speaking out for the group would carry a political cost for Suu Kyi, who took on the newly created role of state counselor in April following the first-democratically elected government in some five decades.
Ambassador Marciel said he would keep using the term Rohingya because it is Washington’s policy to do so.
“What we want to do is to avoid any terms that just add fuel to the fire,” Suu Kyi said in response to a question on her comments about the Rohingya.
“I wasn’t talking about one particular term, I was talking about all the terms that are incendiary and which create greater divisions in the Rakhine and of course elsewhere too.”
Report said Kerry was on a brief stop in the capital Naypyitaw before he joins President Barack Obama in Vietnam on Monday.