Myanmar's Suu Kyi visits Rakhine State for first time since mass exodus

From above: The Rohingya mass exodus
From above: The Rohingya mass exodus

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From above: The Rohingya mass exodus 00:56

Story highlights

  • Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar in recent months
  • Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the crisis in a much-criticized speech in September

(CNN)Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has visited the country's conflict-ridden Rakhine State for the first time since an outbreak of violence in August forced more than 600,000 people to flee.

Suu Kyi arrived in the northeastern region Thursday for a one day trip, government spokesman Zaw Htay told CNN.
    Conflict in the region intensified after Rohingya militants launched a series of alleged attacks on government border posts in late August, sparking widespread reprisals from Myanmar's security services.
    Former democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi has come in for intense international criticism for her handling of the crisis, that has seen hundreds of thousands of Rohingya -- a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority not recognized by Myanmar -- flee into neighboring Bangladesh.
    Many of those crossing the border have brought tales of death and destruction in their homeland, including villages burned to the ground and women and children being murdered.
    Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (center) arrives in Sittwe airport for an unannounced visit to Rakhine state on November 2, 2017.
    Myanmar has repeatedly denied claims it is working to deliberately and forcibly expel Rohingya from Rakhine, instead arguing that the military is carrying out necessary counter measures to protect innocent civilians against "brutal acts of terrorism" perpetrated by Rohingya extremists.
    Following a visit to Myanmar this week, UN Assistant High Commissioner Volker Turk called for "unrestricted humanitarian access for communities in need, and for the voluntary return of refugees in safety and dignity," according to a statement.
    Pattern of violence between Buddhists, Rohingya
    Pattern of violence between Buddhists, Rohingya

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    'Human rights nightmare'

    The United Nations has condemned the ongoing violence against the Rohingya inside Myanmar, with UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Raad al-Huseein labeling it "textbook ethnic cleansing."
    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged those involved to look beyond the underlying grievances and address the current situation, telling a special meeting of the Security Council in September that the crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh was quickly spiraling into "a humanitarian and human rights nightmare."
    "We've received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled, mainly women, children and the elderly," he said.
    Rohingya Muslims are considered to be among the world's most persecuted people. The predominantly Buddhist Myanmar considers them Bangladeshi, but Bangladesh says they're Burmese. As a result, they're effectively stateless.
    Last month, Bangladesh announced it will build a single, enormous refugee camp to house around 800,000 Rohingya refugees as a Bangladeshi minister warned his country was struggling to deal with the flood across the border.
    Leader breaks silence on Rohingya crisis
    Leader breaks silence on Rohingya crisis

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    Fallen idol

    In a highly publicized speech in September addressing the Rohingya issue, Suu Kyi repeatedly contradicted the findings an official report commissioned by the government and compiled by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
    In particular, she claimed her government was unaware of the underlying causes of the crisis, when Annan's report explicitly pointed to "military and police operations" causing thousands to flee across the border, among other issues.
    Defenders of Suu Kyi point to her lack of control over the country's military, owing to the constitution crafted by former junta leaders as they oversaw the shift from an army-led government to partial democracy.
    The 2008 constitution allocated a quarter of the seats in parliament to the military and guaranteed army control over the country's security forces, the police and key cabinet positions in the government.