Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has visited Rakhine state for the first time since a military crackdown that has led more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the country. She urged people "not to quarrel among each other."

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at Sittwe airport in the state of Rakhine on Thursday.
Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at Sittwe airport in the state of Rakhine on Thursday. (Reuters)

Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Thursday urged people "not to quarrel" as she visited Rakhine State for the first time since a military crackdown that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the country.

Suu Kyi, a nobel laureate who leads Myanmar's pro-democracy party, has been criticised by the international community for failing to use her moral power to speak up in defence of the Rohingya.

On Thursday, amid heightened security, Suu Kyi boarded a military helicopter at Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, to be taken to Maungdaw, one of districts worst hit by the violence.

Suu Kyi met a group of Muslim religious leaders, said Chris Lewa from the Arakan Project monitoring group, citing Rohingya sources.

"She only said three things to the people - they should live peacefully, the government is there to help them, and they should not quarrel among each other," Lewa added, quoting from a religious leader who was present.

More than 600,000 of the stateless minority have fled to Bangladesh since late August carrying accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar's army, after militant raids sparked a ferocious military crackdown.

The UN says that the crackdown is tantamount to ethnic cleansing, while pressure has mounted on Myanmar to provide security for the Rohingya and allow people to return home.

Thousands of others are believed to still be camped on a beach near Maungdaw, awaiting boats to Bangladesh in increasingly parlous conditions.

Rakhine refugees continue on their way after crossing from Myanmar into Palong Khali, Bangladesh
Rakhine refugees continue on their way after crossing from Myanmar into Palong Khali, Bangladesh (Reuters)

Crisis for generations

The Rohingya are hated in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and widely dismissed as illegal "Bengali" immigrants.

The Rohingya's legal status are at the crux of communal tensions, with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists stating that Rohingya are foreign interlopers.

A Rohingya resident of Maungdaw town appealed to Suu Kyi to reconsider foisting a controversial national verification card (NVC) on the minority. 

The card grants them limited rights to residence in Myanmar, yet does not recognise them as Rohingya and, therefore, an ethnic group with citizenship rights.

The Muslim group state the NVC is another bureaucratic attempt to erase their identity, forcing a shaky temporary legal status onto the Rohingya in a region where they claim generations of ancestry.

"We can not do anything with this NVC card, so we do not want to receive it," the resident said, requesting anonymity in fear of reprisals.

"We are not Bengalis from Bangladesh. We are Rohingya living here for generations," he added.

Aid groups say the risk of major outbreaks of disease is high while they struggle to deliver food and basic supplies to the unprecedented number of refugees.

Source: Reuters