HANOI: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday (Sep 13) said in hindsight her government could have handled the situation in Rakhine state better.
About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine after government troops led a brutal crackdown in the state in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on 30 Myanmar police posts and a military base in August 2017.
"There are of course ways in which, with hindsight, the situation could've been handled better," Suu Kyi said at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi.
"But we believe that in order to have long-term security and stability we have to be fair to all sides. We can't choose who should be protected by rule of law," she said.
Suu Kyi also spoke about the two Reuters journalists jailed for investigating a massacre in Rakhine state.
She said they were not convicted because they were journalists but because they broke the law.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were each imprisoned for seven years last week for breaching the country's hardline Official Secrets Act while reporting atrocities committed during the military crackdown in Rakhine.
The sentence prompted a storm of global outcry as an assault on freedom of speech, while erstwhile rights champion Suu Kyi came under intense pressure for failing to speak up for the pair.
She broke her silence on the issue on Thursday during a discussion at the World Economic Forum, robustly defending the court's decision to jail the duo.
"They were not jailed because they were journalists" but because "the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act", she said in her first direct comments on the issue.
READ: US joins in outcry against Myanmar's jailing of 2 reporters
Challenging critics of the verdict - including the United Nations, rights groups who once lionised her and the US Vice President - to "point out" where there has been a miscarriage of justice, Suu Kyi said the case upheld the rule of law.
"The case was held in open court ... I don't think anybody has bothered to read the summary of the judge," she added.
Army-led "clearance operations" last August drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities - rape, murder and arson - by Myanmar police and troops.
The Reuters reporters had denied the charges, insisting they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the village of Inn Din in September last year.
This week, the UN rights office accused Myanmar of "waging a campaign against journalists".
It decried "the instrumentalisation of the law and of the courts by the government and military in what constitutes a political campaign against independent journalism".