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Burma’s leader can’t help Rohingya minority until she consolidates power

Regarding the Nov. 22 editorial “In Burma, a flashpoint ignites”:

The treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, in Burma is appalling but, after years of studying, visiting and living in Burma, I can say with great confidence that Aung San Suu Kyi knows much about the mistreatment of the Rohingya and feels awful about it.

If she were the editor of a U.S.-based newspaper, she would not hesitate to call attention to the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya. But she is the democratically elected leader of a country in the early stages of an immensely difficult political transition from five decades of military misrule. Ending the civil war that has raged since independence in 1948 is rightfully Aung San Suu Kyi’s top policy priority. Overcoming the deeply rooted anti-Muslim sentiment endemic in the Buddhist majority in Burma is also a priority, but nowhere in the world has it taken less than a generation to overcome such sentiments.

Aung San Suu Kyi will not be able to make measurable progress on her democracy and human rights agenda until she consolidates power. Burma’s foreign friends can be most helpful by avoiding actions that make it harder for her to do so.


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