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Mahathir, US VP Pence, other leaders at ASEAN take Aung San Suu Kyi to task over Rohingya crisis

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Different world leaders are taking both direct and indirect approaches in addressing the Rohingya crisis to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr. Tun Mahathir Mohammad was the first to criticize Suu Kyi’s government’s handling of the Rohingya Muslims, saying on Tuesday, November 13, that he was “very disappointed” by the Myanmar leader’s failure to protect the Rohingya.

He called her response to the issue “indefensible.” Dr. Mahathir did not hold back in his comments to reporters, saying, “Someone who has been detained before should know the sufferings and should not inflict it on the hapless.“But it would seem that Aung San Sui Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible.”

Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, was next to call Suu Kyi out concerning the Rohingya crisis. On Wednesday, November 14, in a meeting with the press, Pence told Suu Kyi that the persecution and violence that Myanmar’s army has inflicted on the Rohingya is inexcusable.

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“The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse,” he said, telling her that people in the United States are eager to hear that progress has been made in the pursuit of justice for the Rohingya.

Read related: Eyewitness: the Rohingya horrors and Aung San Suu Kyi’s whitewash

Pence also expressed concern over the incarceration of two journalists last December who had been writing about the persecution of the Rohingya.

In September, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Meanwhile, Indonesian leader Jokowi Widodo took a different approach in attempting to help bring a solution to the Rohingya crisis.

In his speech at the ASEAN Summit, the Indonesian president said, “The humanitarian crisis of Rakhine State has not yet been resolved. This crisis has raised concerns and created a deficit in the international community’s trust. As a family, Indonesia hopes that a step forward can be taken to resolve this humanitarian crisis.”

“Indonesia is ready! ASEAN, I am sure, is also ready to help the Myanmar Government to create conducive conditions in the Rakhine State where freedom of movement is respected, there is no discrimination, and development is carried out in an inclusive manner.”

Jokowi was referring to the area in Northern Myanmar, Rakhine State, where violent clashes have occurred for years between Buddhist and Muslim communities, as well as between the military and insurgents.

Jokowi reminded his fellow leaders, “In 1967, when other regions in the world were divided and trapped in the struggle for power of two super powers, ASEAN leaders agreed to unite and create a peaceful and prosperous region.” 

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has also offered to help Suu Kyi, in a bilateral meeting.

A spokesman said after the meeting, “There was a discussion about the current situation on the ground in Rakhine [state], and the need for security and development. New Zealand indicated our willingness to assist in any way we could to achieve an enduring resolution to the situation.”

Earlier this week Suu Kyi was stripped of Amnesty International’s highest honor because of what they called her “indifference” to the suffering of the Rohingya.

A repatriation plan of 150 Rohingya per day is due to start this week, a move that has been criticized by the United Nations, due to objections that the lives of the repatriated Rohingya would still be in danger.

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