Myanmar’s Suu Kyi welcomed to Australia amid protests

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, is welcomed to Parliament House by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during her state visit in Canberra on Monday, March 19. (AAP Image via AP)
Updated 19 March 2018
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Myanmar’s Suu Kyi welcomed to Australia amid protests

CANBERRA, Australia: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was feted in Australia with a military honor guard and 19-gun salute Monday as part of a state visit that has provoked protests over her response to her country’s violent campaign against Rohingya Muslims.
Suu Kyi arrived in Sydney over the weekend for a summit of Southeast Asian leaders and her state visit officially began Monday, when she was welcomed to Parliament House in Canberra. Her visit comes as she faces international criticism over what has become Asia’s worst refugee crisis in decades.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August, when the military responded to insurgent attacks on police with a clearance operation that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing. The campaign has included the burning of Rohingya villages, systematic rape, shootings and other rights violations.
There was no press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull or any public comment from Suu Kyi during her brief visit to the capital on Monday. She had meetings with the prime minister and opposition leader.
Turnbull said Sunday that Suu Kyi had used the weekend summit to seek humanitarian help from her fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Australia to deal with the crisis.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the summit that the refugee crisis was no longer solely a domestic issue for Myanmar, as fleeing Rohingya could be prime targets for terrorist radicalization.
Myanmar staunchly denies that its security forces have targeted Rohingya civilians and Suu Kyi has bristled at the international criticism.
But Myanmar’s denials have appeared increasingly tenuous as horrific accounts from refugees have accumulated and satellite imagery and other evidence of destroyed Rohingya villages have been assembled.
The Associated Press last month documented through video and witness accounts at least five mass graves of Rohingya civilians. Witnesses said the military used acid to erase the identity of victims. The government denied it, maintaining that only “terrorists” were killed and then “carefully buried.”
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, was a longtime political prisoner of Myanmar’s former junta and frequently called for international intervention in her country during her almost 15 years under house arrest. She was released in 2010 and last visited Canberra in 2013 on an Australian tour, before she was allowed to stand for an election that her party eventually won in a landslide.
Then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott described her as an “icon of democracy” as he stood by her side at a joint press conference. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Suu Kyi had inspired her to enter politics.
Suu Kyi’s global image has since taken a battering. She has seen several international honors she was given in the past revoked. Several fellow Peace Prize winners have publicly condemned her.
Though Suu Kyi has been the de facto head of Myanmar’s civilian government since her party took power, she is limited in her control of the country by a constitution written by the outgoing junta. The military has effective veto power over all legislation and controls key ministries including those overseeing security and defense.
The military is in charge of operations involving the Rohingya and ending them is not up to Suu Kyi.
Yet even when Suu Kyi has spoken on the issue, she has drawn criticism. In a September speech, her first public comments on the crisis, she asked for patience from the international community and suggested the refugees were partly responsible.
Suu Kyi faces a potential domestic backlash if she speaks on behalf of the Rohingya, who have been the target of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Many people agree with the official government stance that there is no such ethnicity as Rohingya and that those in the country have illegally migrated from Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s backers globally have also had to tread carefully, not wanting to undermine Suu Kyi’s weak civilian government at a time when the country is just emerging from decades of authoritarian rule.
Unlike the United Nations, United States and Britain, Australia has not accused Myanmar of “ethnic cleansing” or “crimes against humanity.”
But Australia did support a UN resolution in December condemning the “very likely commission of crimes against humanity” by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya.
Human rights groups have criticized Australia for maintaining its limited military engagement with Myanmar. Australia provides English-language lessons and training courses to Myanmar officers to “promote professionalism and adherence to international laws,” according to the defense department.
But Australia maintains a long-standing arms embargo with Myanmar.


Kashmir shuts down over India’s ‘muscular policy’

Updated 18 min 51 sec ago
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Kashmir shuts down over India’s ‘muscular policy’

  • Activists angry over detention of rebel leader, suspension of border trade with Pakistan
  • Analysts said the arrest of activists was an attempt to sanitize the valley before polling day

NEW DELHI: Indian-controlled Kashmir observed a shutdown Tuesday over the alleged ill-treatment of a separatist leader and the suspension of border trade with Pakistan.

Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was taken into custody as part of a major crackdown following a February attack in Pulwama that killed dozens of Indian security personnel.

India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. The Pulwama attack brought both nations to the brink of war and tensions have been running high since.

Tuesday’s strike, called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), saw the shutdown of all shops, businesses and traffic in protest at his detention and ill-treatment.

There is also anger that border trade with Pakistan has been suspended after the Indian government said that many of those trading across the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir into zones under Indian and Pakistani administration, had links to militant organizations.

“News about Yasin Malik being seriously ill and being shifted to a hospital in New Delhi is very disturbing,” JRL member Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Arab News.

“The people of Kashmir are concerned about his safety and well-being. It’s sad that even his family and his lawyer are not allowed to meet him. It’s the responsibility of the state, under whose detention he is in, to ensure his well-being. It is unfortunate that the state is dealing with the political issue of Kashmir with muscular and military policy alone. This will not yield anything apart from more anger and alienation on the ground. Look at the elections. The dismal turnout proves how disenchanted and alienated common masses feel today,” said Farooq, referring to the low turnout of Kashmir voters in India’s mammoth general election.

Analysts said the arrest of activists was an attempt to sanitize the valley before polling day.

India has had three phases in its election and participation in Kashmir has been poor, with some suggesting a turnout of 15 percent compared to 34 percent in 2014.

The JRL said the shutdown was also a condemnation of the alleged “ongoing aggression of central investigation agencies against Kashmiri leaders, activists, senior businessmen, trade union leaders, kith and kin of resistance leaders and other people belonging to different walks of life.”

Its statement called the closure of the national highway for two days a week “undemocratic ... and a gross human rights violation.”

The JRL slammed the suspension of border trade and said it was putting “the lives and economy of thousands into jeopardy.”

Srinagar-based rights activists Parvez Imroz said what was happening in Kashmir amounted to political and economic repression.

“By suspending trade at the border many lives are at stake,” he told Arab News. “People who have invested heavily in business are staring at an uncertain future. The government is not leaving any breathing space for the people of Kashmir.”

He added that, despite the Indian government’s tactics and firepower, people had not been motivated to cast their vote.

“Kashmir is not a democracy but an occupation. How can you expect people to respond when New Delhi behaves like a colonial power?”

But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said separatists had no right to question the government about the treatment of Kashmiri leaders.

“The separatist leaders never treated their own people well. They always tortured people who defied them. How come they expect good treatment at the hands of the Indian government?” Hina Bhat, a BJP leader in Srinagar, told Arab News.

She defended the ban on border trade, saying it could not continue unless the relationship between India and Pakistan normalized. She also put a positive spin on polling day, saying it was a success because it was “casualty-free.”

“No doubt people have some grudges and they are not happy with the previous government, but there is no need for disappointment as poll rates in other parts of the state have been good,” she added.