Myanmar’s national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, facing outrage over violence that has forced about 400,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh, will not attend the upcoming U.N. General Assembly because of the crisis, her office said on Wednesday.
The exodus of refugees, sparked by the security forces’ fierce response to a series of Rohingya militant attacks, is the most pressing problem Suu Kyi has faced since becoming leader last year.
Critics have called for her to be stripped of her Nobel peace prize for failing to do more to halt the strife, which the U.N. rights agency said was a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Aid agencies will have to step up operations “massively” in response to the refugee flow into Bangladesh, a senior U.N. official said, adding that the $77 million that United Nations had appealed for last week would not be enough.
But a Bangladeshi border force officer said the number of people crossing into his area had fallen sharply, apparently because everyone had left districts most affected by the violence.
Suu Kyi, in her first address to the U.N. General Assembly as a leader in September last year, defended her government’s efforts to resolve the crisis over treatment of the Muslim minority.
This year, her office said she would not be attending because of the security threats posed by the insurgents and her efforts to restore stability.
“She is trying to control the security situation, to have internal peace and stability, and to prevent the spread of communal conflict,” Zaw Htay, the spokesman for Suu Kyi’s office, told Reuters.
International pressure has been growing on Buddhist-majority Myanmar to end the violence in the western state of Rakhine that began on August 25 when Rohingya militants attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp.
The raids triggered a sweeping military counter-offensive against the insurgents, described by the government as terrorists. Refugees say that the security operation is aimed at pushing Rohingya out of Myanmar.
They, and rights groups, paint a picture of widespread attacks on Rohingya villages in the north of Rakhine State by the security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who have torched many Muslim villages.
Authorities have denied that the security forces, or Buddhist civilians, have been setting the fires, and have blamed the insurgents. Nearly 30,000 Buddhist villagers have also been displaced, they say.