THANDWE: Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi began her campaign in volatile Rakhine state with a hundreds-strong security force, as she risks a rare brush with hostility in a region where Buddhist hardliners accuse her of sympathising with maligned local Muslims.
The opposition leader was whisked out of Thandwe airport yesterday in a convoy surrounded by supporters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) passing on its way around two dozen riot police gathered in the town.
Suu Kyi has mostly received a hero’s welcome in her criss-crossing of the former junta-run nation in pursuit of victory in the landmark Nov 8 polls, but is braced for a mixed reception in western Rakhine.
“Security will be very tight. We are going to use more than 1,000 people for security. We are worried and taking precautions because we do not want any problem,” Win Naing, chairman of Suu Kyi’s NLD in Thandwe, said earlier.
Concerned officials had “negotiated” in the region for a peaceful trip, he said, adding that many local people would like to “welcome her warmly”.
Suu Kyi has opted to skirt state capital Sittwe and other more hair-trigger areas of Rakhine, which remains deeply scarred by two bouts of communal unrest between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims that erupted in 2012 and left more than 200 dead.
Most of the 140,000 people displaced as a result of the bloodshed and arson are Muslims. They remain trapped in miserable camps or have attempted to escape on rickety boats in a desperate exodus from Myanmar that has swelled in recent years.
While Suu Kyi has faced international disappointment at her reluctance to speak out in support of the minority Rohingya, she is viewed with suspicion among Rakhine hardliners who see her as supportive of Muslims.
During a recent interview with India Today, the Nobel laureate defended her reticence, saying “flaming words of condemnation” were the wrong way to achieve reconciliation.
Tensions are spiking in the Buddhist-majority country as it heads towards the elections, which many hope will be the freest in generations for the former pariah state.
Suu Kyi has accused her opponents of using religion – and the rise of a powerful nationalist monk-led movement – as part of their political campaigns.
At Thandwe – the gateway to Myanmar’s upscale nearby beach resorts – dozens of supporters crowded the airport, many holding placards welcoming Suu Kyi or waving her party’s flag, as the democracy icon was whisked away for her first rally. — AFP
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