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Rakhine conflict highlights law concerns: Suu Kyi

The sectarian violence in western Burma's Rakhine state underscores the need for the rule of law, clear rules on citizenship, and "responsible" vigilance along the Burma-Bangladesh border, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday.

Aung San Suu Kyi at the ILO meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, the first stop on her two-week tour of European cities, marking her return to Europe after nearly 25 years, much of that period spent under house arrest in Burma. Photo: ILOShe said she was concerned over the violence that has killed nearly 30 people, according to government estimates, since rioting began nearly a week ago between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the state.

The 66-year-old Nobel laureate said "the most important lesson" from the conflict was "the need for rule of law," which she added was also key to resolving the numerous armed ethnic conflicts in the country emerging from decades of harsh military rule.

"We have said again and again, my party, the National League for Democracy, that rule of law is essential if we are to put an end to all conflicts within the country," she told a news conference in Bern, the Swiss capital, after arriving by train from Geneva where she addressed the International Labour Organization (ILO).

"Everybody must have access to the protection of the law and of course they also have a duty to abide by the laws of the land. So, without rule of law, such communal strife will only continue, and the present situation will have to be handled with delicacy and sensitivity, and we need the cooperation of all peoples concerned to regain the peace that we want for the country."

Twenty-nine people – 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists – have been killed and scores more wounded and nearly 2,600 homes burned in Rakhine State since Friday, according to Htein Lin, security and border affairs minister for Rakhine.

Some 31,900 people have also been displaced by the fighting and are housed in 37 camps across the state, which has been placed under emergency rule since Sunday, Htein Lin told reporters in the state capital Sittwe.

The death toll does not include 10 Muslims beaten to death while traveling on a bus by a Buddhist mob on June 3 in apparent revenge for the rape and murder of a woman, which sparked the violence. The passengers had no connection to the murdered woman. State media said three Muslims are on trial for the woman's death.

Ethnic tensions are common in Rakhine, which is home to Burma’s largest population of Muslims, including the Rohingya, though they remain a minority in the largely Buddhist region. The United Nations refugee agency estimates that some 800,000 Rohingya live in Rakhine state.

Decades of discrimination have left the Muslim Rohingya stateless and viewed by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet.

Illegal immigrants

The Burmese government regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though many of them have lived in the country for generations.

When asked whether she accepts Rohingyas as Burmese citizens, Aung San Suu Kyi repeated the need for rule of law in the country as well as clear citizenship regulations and efficient border enforcement policies.

"We need very clear and precise laws with regard to citizenship to begin with. But I would like to mention here a very practical problem that we have to resolve in the Rakhine State. I think one of the greatest problems comes from the fear on both sides of the border – that is to say [between] Bangladesh and Burma – that there will be illegal immigrants crossing all the time and this is due to the porous border.

"I think we need more responsible, incorrupt border vigilance."

Aung San Suu Kyi also touched on the hostilities in Burma's Kachin state, saying a cease-fire to halt ethnic violence there was not enough and underlined the need for a political solution.

"I understand that there are negotiations going on between the government and and the KIO with regard to a cease-fire. I just want to underline the fact that a cease-fire is not enough. In the end, we have to have a political settlement if there is to be a kind of peace that is lasting and meaningful."

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) is the Kachin ethnic group’s political wing. Kachin rebels have been fighting government forces since a 17-year peace agreement was shattered in June last year, forcing at least 50,000 people from their homes and thousands more to flee across the border into China.

Earlier, Aung San Suu Kyi, making her first visit to Europe in nearly a quarter of a century, received a standing ovation at the International Labour Organization (ILO), whose director-general Juan Somavia praised her "remarkable courage and determination."

Joint ventures

In her ILO speech, she urged foreign governments not to let their companies form joint ventures with Burma's state-owned oil and gas company until it improved its business practices.

The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint venture arrangements, "lacks both transparency and accountability at present," she said.

"The (Burmese) government needs to apply internationally recognized standards such as the IMF code of good practices on fiscal transparency. Other countries could help by not allowing their own companies to partner MOGE unless it was signed up to such codes," she said.

Responsible investment was the key to helping her resource-rich country along the path to democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is about to turn 67, cut short the press conference and her engagements in the Swiss capital due to exhaustion.

The opposition leader apologized after vomiting during the press conference, saying she was "totally exhausted" from traveling.

"I am not used to the time difference," she said.

Switzerland is the first stop on a 18-day trip that will take her to Norway, Sweden, Britain, France, and Ireland.

Reported by Khim Maung Soe for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English with additional reporting by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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