Aung San Suu Kyi Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

The Lady and the Exodus

The escalating campaign of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar's military in Rakhine State is threatening to undermine the country’s ongoing democratic transition – and to tarnish irrevocably the reputation of the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But she still wields enough moral authority to act.

DHAKA – Myanmar is in crisis. The Rohingya – a Muslim ethnic minority group in a predominantly Buddhist country – are under attack by the military, with many fleeing for their lives. This escalating conflict is threatening to undermine Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition – and to tarnish irrevocably the reputation of the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

For decades, Myanmar’s government has refused to recognize the Rohingya – who comprise around 2% of the country’s population of over 50 million – as a legitimate ethnic minority, denying them citizenship and even the most basic rights as inhabitants. But it was just last month that systematic discrimination escalated into ethnic cleansing, with security forces responding to attacks on police posts and an army camp by Rohingya militants by launching an assault on all Rohingya people.

So far, Myanmar has confirmed 400 deaths, though United Nations officials put the toll closer to 1,000. Moreover, upwards of 300,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Several thousand more Rohingya are waiting at the border, awaiting permission to enter the country.

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