Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has visited the country’s Rakhine State, long after government-sanctioned violence against minority Muslims in the area drove out almost half of the Muslim population living there.
The Myanmarese leader arrived aboard a military helicopter in the provincial capital of Sittwe amid tight security on Thursday morning.
An exodus of distressed Muslims in Rakhine has altered the demographic status of the state, where the military and Buddhist mobs have since last year been attacking Muslim Rohingya civilians.
Suu Kyi has long been under fire by the international community initially keeping silent on the violence and then defending the military’s handling of the situation.
According to Suu Kyi’ spokesperson, Zaw Htay, she planned to visit the troubled border district of Maungdaw, which has seen the greatest exodus of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.
“She will go to Maungdaw, and I cannot give any more details,” he told Reuters.
It was also not clear what her visit would entail, and whether the situation would in any way improve.
This is Suu Kyi’s first trip to Rakhine since she assumed power in April last year following a landslide 2015 election victory. The majority of the residents in the northern part of the state, which includes Maungdaw — some 1.5 million — was Muslims until the recent crisis.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have so far fled the predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 25, when the crackdown on the Rohingya intensified in Rakhine State.
Many of those who have fled have told harrowing accounts of rape, murder, and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s forces and Buddhist mobs, in what has been branded “an ethnic cleansing campaign” against the Muslim minority group.
Estimates as to how many Muslims have been killed vary from 1,000 to 3,000.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has so far done almost nothing to end the violence in Rakhine. She has claimed that the widespread reports of killings and rape against the Rohingya were fake news.
Her government refuses to grant citizenship to the Muslim minority community.
So far, some 200 Rohingyas refugees have drowned as they attempted to cross a border river that separates Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The United Nations has described the Rohingya as the most persecuted community in the world.