Row over Aung San Suu Kyi threatens to split Burmese pro-democracy movement in Britain


Aung San Suu Kyi’s will wrap up her tour of Britain tomorrow with a celebratory gathering of Britain’s Burmese community featuring traditional music and dancing.

At first glance it is a fitting tribute for a woman who is often regarded as the one figure who can unite her country’s disparate opposition groups.

But the meeting will take place amid increasingly acrimonious internal fighting that is threatening the very future of Burma’s pro-democracy movement and vividly illustrates some of the difficulties facing Suu Kyi both at home and abroad.

The Independent has learned that a number of Burmese groups threatened to pull out of tomorrow's gathering amid accusations that Miss Suu Kyi is not doing enough to speak out against sectarian violence in her homeland.

Members of the Kachin and Rohingya communities – two groups that are currently victim to particularly acute violence inside Burma – are angered that the meeting is being billed as a celebration rather than an opportunity to press their grievances.

Kachin tribes in north-eastern Burma are currently in the midst of a brutal civil war against the military with reports of widespread human rights violations including kidnappings, extra-judicial killings and systematic rape by Burmese soldiers.

Members of Britain’s Kachin community have said they will refuse to wear traditional dress or dance at tomorrow’s meeting because “they have nothing to celebrate”.

“We are very happy that Aung San Suu Kyi has achieved her freedom of movement but she should speak up more to stop the human rights abuses and ask donors to increase humanitarian aid for the Kachin [refugees],” Hkun Htoi, a member of the Kachin National Organisation, told The Independent.

Recent sectarian rioting on Burma’s western border with Bangladesh, meanwhile, has broken out between the Rohingya, an oppressed Muslim minority who are refused citizenship despite residing in the area for centuries, and their Buddhist neighbours. 

Many Burmese view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and prejudice towards them has spilled out into recent bloodshed that has killed dozens and created thousands of refugees on the move.

The recent violence in western Burma, which was sparked when a Buddhist woman was raped last month by a gang of Muslim men and ten Rohingya were lynched in revenge, presents Miss Suu Kyi with an acute political problem.

Despite a fearless reputation for standing up to human rights abusers, the 67-year-old dissident has been noticeably silent on the subject of anti-Rohingya prejudice. That is because many of those who are most vocal in wanting to expel them from Burmese territory are part of the country’s pro-democracy movement. If Miss Suu Kyi speaks out in favour of the Rohingya’s claim to Burmese citizenship, she risks alienating some of her most erstwhile allies.

Those inside Burma have reported significant increase in recent years in anti-Muslim prejudice which has begun to spill out into Britain’s Burmese population. “Even on UK soil there is anti-Rohingya, anti-Muslim racism going on,” says Tun Khin, a prominent Rohingya refugee who, despite having a grandfather that used to be a parliamentary secretary, does not have Burmese citizenship. “There have even been protests in front of Downing Street against the Rohingya by Burmese groups saying we’re not citizens.”

Last Tuesday night Mr Khin’s door was smashed down in what he believes was an attack motivated by the recent sectarian violence in his homeland. He says many Rohingya are angered that Miss Suu Kyi has been quiescent on the violence unleashed against them and has refused to support their citizenship claim.

“Aung San Suu Kyi will be listened to by everyone so why doesn’t she speak up?” he said. “She could say stop fighting about ethnic issues, she could speak up and say these people have lived for a long time in Burma and they are citizens.”

Rohingya hopes that they might receive words of encouragement from Miss Suu Kyi were dashed earlier this week when she ducked a question while collecting an award from Amnesty International in Ireland on whether the Muslim tribe were Burmese citizens. Asked if the Rohingyas should be regarded as Burmese, she replied: “I do not know.”

Burmese Democratic Concern, which organised today’s meeting with Miss Suu Kyi, is one of the exile groups most vehemently opposed to Rohingyas. Its website contains numerous reports laying the blame for sectarian conflict squarely at the door of the Rohingyas – a view which is disputed by most human rights groups and the UN.

Myo Thein, the group’s founder, told The Independent: “There is no tension in Burmese community over Kachin community because we are behind our brothers and sisters there. We fully support them. But regarding the Rohingya issue we do have a problem. We don’t accept they are part of Burma or Burmese citizens. We see them as illegal immigrants, Bengalis from Bangladesh.”

Burma’s Muslim minority presents a political minefield for Aung San Suu Kyi as she evolves from being an imprisoned dissident to an opposition politician. The international community will expect her to continue speaking out against all forms of violence but the domestic situation has caused her to be cautious when it comes to the Rohingyas.

Mark Farmaner, from the Free Burma Campaign, says there is little chance anti-Muslim prejudice will go away any time soon. He recently returned from a one month visit to Burma.

“Anti-Muslim prejudice is endemic in Burmese society,” he said. “Derogatory comments about Muslims are so commonplace it is quite shocking.”

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice