Burma leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said ethnic cleansing was too strong a term to describe what was happening in the country's Muslim-majority Rakhine region, claiming violence there was partly down to “Muslims killing Muslims”.
The UN has launched an investigation into allegations of Burmese security forces killing, raping and torturing Rohingya Muslims.
A report issued by the body earlier this year, based on interviews with 220 Rohingya among 75,000 who have fled to Bangladesh since October, accused Burma’s security forces of having committed mass killings and gang rapes in a campaign that “very likely” amounted to crimes again humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.
“I don't think there is ethnic cleansing going on,” Ms Suu Kyi told the BBC in an interview when asked if she would be remembered as the Nobel Peace Prize winner who ignored ethnic cleansing in her own country.
“I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening,” said Ms Suu Kyi who is facing international criticism for her government's handling of a crisis in Rakhine. “I think there is a lot of hostility there—it is Muslims killing Muslims as well, if they think they are co-operating with the authorities.”
Attacks on Burma border guard posts in October last year by a previously unknown insurgent group ignited the biggest crisis of Ms Suu Kyi's year in power, with more than 75,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh in the ensuing army crackdown.
The military denied the UN's claims, saying it was engaged in a legitimate counterinsurgency operation, and a spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi called them “exaggerated”.
“What we are trying to go for is reconciliation not condemnation,” Ms Suu Kyi told the BBC.
When asked whether perceptions of her as an amalgam of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta were incorrect as she was more similar to former British leader Margaret Thatcher, she said:
“Well no. I am just a politician. I am not quite like Margaret Thatcher, no. But on the other hand, I am no Mother Teresa either.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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