'Defending the indefensible': Malaysia's Mahathir slams Aung San Suu Kyi over Rohingya crisis

'Defending the indefensible': Malaysia's Mahathir slams Aung San Suu Kyi over Rohingya crisis

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, has toured Asia in recent months beating the drum
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, has toured Asia in recent months beating the drum for her country's economy. (Photo: AFP/Roslan RAHMAN)

SINGAPORE: Aung San Suu Kyi's response to the alleged atrocities against Myanmar's minority Rohingya community is "indefensible", said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday (Nov 13) in a withering criticism of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. 

Mahathir, 93, said he was "very disappointed" by Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to defend the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority driven from Myanmar in their hundreds of thousands last year by an army campaign that UN investigators said amounted to genocide.

"Someone who has been detained before should know the sufferings and should not inflict it on the hapless," said Mahathir, in a reference to Aung San Suu Kyi's long years of house arrest under Myanmar's military rule.

"But it would seem that Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible," he told reporters. "They are actually oppressing these people to the point of killing them, mass killing."

Mahathir was asked on the sidelines of a speech he delivered in Singapore to comment on how Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi had been dealing with the Rohingya issue. 

A UN report in August detailed a military crackdown with genocidal intent that began in 2017 and drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state into neighbouring Bangladesh.

READ: Myanmar rejects UN probe findings of Rohingya 'genocide'

Myanmar has denied most of the allegations in the report. Aung San Suu Kyi previously said her civilian government should not bear all responsibility for the crisis because the military retains a powerful political role under the constitution.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is in Singapore for the ASEAN summit, has been widely criticised by the international community for her handling of the crisis.

Amnesty International said on Tuesday that it had withdrawn its most prestigious human rights prize from Aung San Suu Kyi, accusing her of perpetuating human rights abuses by not speaking out about violence against the Rohingya.

READ: Amnesty International strips Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi of 'conscience' award

On Tuesday, Mahathir also appealed to Myanmar to accept Rohingya as citizens.

"When Malaysia became independent in 1957, we had people of foreign origin .... but we accepted all of them," he said.

"They are now citizens, they play a full role in the politics of the country, they are free, they are not detained because of race or anything like that."

Myanmar insists the Rohingya are interlopers from Bangladesh, despite many living for generations in western Rakhine state, and has long denied them basic rights and liberties.

Southeast Asian nations will call for those responsible for atrocities in Myanmar's Rakhine state to be held "fully accountable", according to a draft statement prepared for the ASEAN summit, reflecting a stronger line being taken within the group.

A final statement could be issued after the ASEAN leaders meet late on Tuesday.

Source: Agencies/gs(ra)

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