09/18/2017, 17.00
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UN criticises Myanmar over Rohingya ahead of Aung San Suu Kyi's address

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres calls for a stop to the military offensive before the crisis becomes irreversible. The Myanmar military have redoubled their action against Muslim "extremists" in the country’s north-west. Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has become popular in China for defending her people’s “interests”. China has a major stake in Rakhine State.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Less than 24 hours before Aung San Suu Kyi makes a televised speech on the Rohingya controversy, the Commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, has accused the Muslim minority of triggering the recent humanitarian crisis in north-western Myanmar.

Writing online, General Min Aung Hlaing said the Rohingya have “never been an ethnic group", and has accused "extremists" of trying to set up a stronghold in northern Rakhine state.

In his post, which has spread on social media, the general calls on the country, which is 90 per cent Buddhist, and its media to unite against foreign interference in the Rohingya “question”.

He says that military operations began on 25 August after an army battalion fiercely fought with "Bengali extremists", which is how the Rohingya militants are referred to.

In his view, the violence is part of n plan orchestrated outside the country to set up a Muslim minority enclave in the country’s north-west near the border with Bangladesh.

"They have demanded recognition as Rohingya, which has never been an ethnic group in Myanmar. (The) Bengali issue is a national cause and we need to be united in establishing the truth," the general said. Overall, the country has some 135 ethnic groups.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also addressed the issue. He said that Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor (prime minister), had “a last chance” to stop the crisis. Otherwise, the situation could become “absolutely horrible” and irreversible.

The violence in Rakhine has triggered a serious humanitarian crisis. Within a few weeks, up to 400,000 people have left their homes and villages, seeking refuge in Bangladesh.

Recently, the United Nations described what was happening in Myanmar as "ethnic cleansing", worried about possible worse scenarios. In view of this, it called on Myanmar to take immediate action to stop the violence.

Regional and world powers are now waiting for tomorrow when Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to lay down her government’s policy on the issue.

However, as the UN Secretary-General noted, Ms Suu Kyi has to deal with the country’s military, which remains very powerful after decades of military dictatorship.

The Armed Forces hold 25 per cent the seats in both houses of parliament and hold some key government ministries, such as Defence, Internal Affairs and Borders.

Recently, Ms Suu Kyi announced that she would not attend the UN General Assembly, sending instead Vice President Henry Van Thio in her place so that she could personally deal with the Rohingya question.

Since the crisis began, the State Counsellor has slammed what she calls the “fake news" that have distorted the facts and fuelled tensions.

China, which has close economic and trade ties with both Bangladesh and Myanmar, has come to the latter’s rescue by backing its efforts at upholding peace and stability in Rakhine.

Beijing has criticised foreign interference, saying that the military offensive in the state is an internal affair. “China will maintain its non-interference policy but will also be proactive [in trying] to mediate in the Rohingya issue,” Hu Zhiyong, an associate researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said.

According to various analysts, Beijing's support for Myanmar has economic reasons. China is investing some 2.5 billion yuan (US$ 380 million) in a pipeline from Myanmar to Kunming (Yunnan) that would allow oil imports from the Middle East to bypass the Malacca Strait, and the disputed South China Sea.

As part of its involvement in Myanmar, China is building a port and a Special Economic Zone in Kyaukpyu, Rakhine.

For Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, this has translated into support among Chinese netizens. In an article published today on the Global Times, the latter have praised her defiance against “outside pressure while safeguarding her people’s interest.”

According to the Chinese daily, on sites like guancha.cn and ifeng.com, Suu Kyi is hailed as “a stateswoman who serves her people’s interest”.

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