Suu Kyi finally acknowledges Rohingya crisis missteps

Lamar Ellis
September 14, 2018

"They were not jailed because they were journalists, [but because] the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act", she said.

Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo sit beside police officers as they leave court in Yangon, Myanmar, July 9, 2018.

Aung San Suu Kyi also reiterated her intention to amend the constitutional requirement that unelected members of the military must hold 25 percent of parliamentary seats, but said that in the interests of "national reconciliation and stability" she would pursue this incrementally and through negotiation.

Reuters, in response to Suu Kyi's comments, said in a statement: "We continue to believe that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not violate Myanmar's espionage law, and at no point in time were they engaged in activity to hurt their country". Speaking at the World Economic forum she said the conviction of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had "nothing to do with freedom of expression at all".

In a rare comment on the case, Ms Suu Kyi said that the plight of the Rohingya "could have been handled better". The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how democratic reforms in long-isolated Myanmar have stalled under Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government, which took power in 2016.

"Open courts are created to shed light on the justice process", International Commission of Jurists legal adviser Sean Bain said.

However, Aung San Suu Kyi said the reporters have the right to "appeal the judgment and to point out why the judgment was wrong".

The UN began work on Wednesday inside Myanmar's violence-torn northern Rakhine State, the first time its agencies have been granted permission to operate there since more than 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims fled the area a year ago.

The ferocity of that crackdown has thrust Myanmar into a firestorm of criticism as Western goodwill evaporates toward a nation ruled by a ruthless junta until 2015.

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A United Nations human rights team report has recommended senior Burmese commanders be prosecuted for genocide and other crimes.

The International Criminal Court has said it can investigate the alleged deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Aung San Suu Kyi touched on investment in Thursday's interview, and in comments on stage with other ASEAN leaders on Wednesday, saying that Myanmar welcomed competition.

"There are of course ways in which with hindsight I think the situation could have been handled better", Aung San Suu Kyi said, responding to questions during a one-on-one discussion at the World Economic Forum's regional meeting in Hanoi.

But she also appeared to turn responsibility onto neighbouring Bangladesh for failing to start the repatriation of the almost one million-strong Rohingya refugee community to Myanmar.

She added: 'They were not jailed because they were journalists.

It was widely seen as the authorities taking revenge on Reuters for their reporting on the Rakhine crisis which has seen the country accused of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority and of ethnic cleansing.

Rohingya refugees refuse to return to Myanmar without guarantees of safety, restitution for lost lands and citizenship.

The guilty verdicts of the two Reuters reporters on September 3 has sharply divided public opinion in Myanmar.

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