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Burmese leader brushes aside global criticism

International | Aung San Suu Kyi responds benignly to accusations of ethnic cleansing
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 9/19/17, 05:26 pm

Leader Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, also called Burma, on Tuesday said her country did not fear international scrutiny even as the United Nations and other international observers accused its military of ethnic cleansing.

In her first public address since the conflict broke out on Aug. 25, Suu Kyi said the government was gathering evidence of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state and working to restore stability to the area. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, drew international criticism for not condemning the security forces that have driven some 412,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. Rohingya Muslim militants staged attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine state in August, and a clearance operation by government forces followed. Many of the surviving Rohingya entered Bangladesh with bullet wounds and said the military had burned down their villages. The two groups have continued to exchange blame.

Suu Kyi said the country was committed to restoring peace and stability but first needed to understand the crisis. “There have been allegations and counterallegations,” she said. “We want to find out why this exodus is happening. We’d like to talk to those who have fled as well as those who have stayed.” She said Rakhine state has not experienced any armed clashes or clearance operations since Sept. 5, although witnesses told of fires seen in empty villages in recent days. Suu Kyi said the country stood ready “at any time” to take back the Rohingya refugees based on a verification process. In Burma, many of the Rohingya have no legal status or citizenship rights.

The military denied it targeted civilians and said it staged its operations to clear out terrorists. They accused international nonprofit organizations responding to the crisis of supporting the terrorists, and many of those organizations reported limited access to some of the affected areas.

Suu Kyi is the nation’s de facto leader and also serves as a state counselor, but the military still controls the ministries of Interior, Border Affairs, and Defense. Suu Kyi gained international commendation after spending 15 years under house arrest in opposition to the country’s military rule. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in in 1991 and several other international awards in the following years that hailed her courage and determination. But her neutrality in the renewed clashes drew condemnation from Western leaders and other Nobel Peace Prize recipients, including Malala Yousafzai and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Jurgen Haacke, an associate professor in international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said part of the outrage stemmed from Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn the violence outright. But the military still has autonomy in security operations, he said, adding, “We don’t know enough about the relationship. She may believe this would undermine her relationship with the military.”

Human Rights Watch on Monday called on the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on the military in response to the ongoing crisis. The Myanmar government last week formed a committee to implement the recommendations of an advisory commission on improving the living conditions in Rakhine state. Haacke said the recommendations could help, as long as the violence is curtailed.

“It’s going to take time to work out, and violence, to the extent it’s happening, is not going to remove the distrust,” he said.

Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil Mourners at a funeral for Coptic Christians in Egypt who died in a May attack

Egypt reopens closed Coptic churches

Coptic Christians in Minya, Egypt, rejoiced Sept. 10, when authorities allowed them to resume services at two closed churches.

Officials closed St. Mary and St. Michael Coptic Orthodox Church in Ezbat al-Forn “for security reasons” in August, World Watch Monitor reported. After being shut down in July, St. Paula Coptic Orthodox Church in Kidwan village also reopened last week.

Authorities said they closed the unlicensed churches over fears of religious violence. In May, gunmen posing as security officers murdered more than two dozen Coptic pilgrims in Minya. A mob of about 300 Muslims attacked an elderly woman and several Coptic homes in Minya in 2016 after the woman’s son was accused of adultery.

Minya Bishop Anba Makarios spoke out against the closures, telling Egypt Independent that state power “should not be subordinate to people and extremists’ whims.”

Not all Muslims oppose the churches. International Christian Concern (ICC) reported that local Muslims, including Ezbat al-Forn Mayor Dahi Abdul Salam, joined Christians petitioning President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to allow their use.

Salam told ICC that a delegation of Muslims formed, went to security forces, and “affirmed our appreciation for the need of our Coptic brothers in the village for a place to pray.” Some Muslims visited St. Mary and St. Michael church to congratulate neighbors on its reopening, according to World Watch Monitor.

Egyptian officials have shuttered many churches for similar security reasons, and more than 60 remain closed, according to Expat Cairo.

In recent years, religious tensions and violence have plagued Minya. The Washington Post reported the largest number of sectarian attacks in Egypt happened there, including more than 75 incidents targeting Christians in six years. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Hassene Dridi Associated Press/Photo by Hassene Dridi Tunisians protest a law that would give amnesty to officials charged with corruption.

Tunisia’s corruption amnesty sparks outrage

An amnesty law that would protect government officials accused of corruption during the regime of former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali triggered mass protests in Tunisia last week. The new law, proposed by President Beji Caid Essebsi, grants amnesty to officials on trial for corruption and requires them to return stolen money and pay a fine. The government defended the law as a step toward moving on from the past and improving the climate for investment. Opposition lawmakers withdrew from the legislative session in protest, and dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building in Tunis.

“This law is an advanced stage of counterrevolution,” opposition lawmaker Ammar Amroussia said. Ben Ali was ousted during the 2011 Tunisian Revolution that stemmed from complaints of unemployment, corruption, and stifled freedoms. Opposition officials have accused Essebsi, who also served under Ben Ali, of trying to strengthen his hold on power ahead of the first post-revolution municipal elections. In a recent Cabinet shuffle, officials from the Ben Ali regime were appointed as ministers of finance and education. —O.O.

Filipino priest rescued from ISIS

Philippine troops have rescued Teresito Soganub, a Catholic priest, who was one of many civilians captured in May when Islamic State (ISIS) took control of the city of Marawi. The 51-year-old priest appeared in a video shortly after his abduction, in which he said the militants wanted the encircling military to withdraw from the city. Soganub, who had long worked toward interfaith dialogue, still upheld his mission after his release: “I still believe in interfaith relationship, that we can be united as Muslims and Christians, that we’re not enemies.” Military chief Eduardo Ano said the militants continue to hold about 50 other hostages. —O.O.

Top European court affirms church autonomy

The European Court of Human Rights upheld the freedom of churches to regulate their own affairs across Europe last week. Karol Nagy, a Hungarian native, filed the case after an ecclesiastical court in 2005 removed him from his pastoral post following disciplinary proceedings. “This decision is welcome because it reinforces the rights and freedoms of all religious believers in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe to manage their own affairs without unwarranted external interference,” said Paul Coleman, deputy director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, which filed an expert brief in the case. —O.O.

Nigerian military fights war of words with secessionists

The Nigerian military has labeled a pro-independence group in the southeast part of the country a terror organization. Director of Defense Information Paul Enenche in a statement accused the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) movement of setting up a secret service and national guard and blocking public roads, among other allegations. The group denied accusations of violence. IPOB, made up of mainly members of the Igbo ethnic group, has complained of marginalization in Nigeria while calling for an independent nation. —O.O.

Abducted Finnish aid worker freed in Afghanistan

Finland’s foreign ministry has confirmed that one of its nationals, who was kidnapped in a May militant attack in Afghanistan, has been freed. The ministry confirmed her safety but did not release her name. The Finnish woman worked with Operation Mercy, an international relief and development organization based in Sweden. Militants attacked her residence in Kabul on May 20. The militants kidnapped the woman and killed a German aid worker and an Afghan guard. Operation Mercy released a statement saying it welcomed her release “with great joy.” —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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