Updated at 6:30 p.m. EST on 2012-09-18
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called Tuesday for the removal of the "roots of hatred" that have fueled the conflict between ethnic Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas in western Burma, saying the issue has to be resolved through respect for human rights and rule of law, and negotiations.
"Basically, whenever there is hate, there is fear. So, hate and fear are very closely related. You have to remove the roots of hatred—that is to say you have to address these issues that make people insecure and that make people threatened," she told RFA's Burmese service in an interview.
"Whenever people talk about conflict resolution, whatever kind of advice they give, there is one that is unavoidable—you have to talk to one another, you have to negotiate, you have to sort out your problems through speech rather than violence," she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized by rights groups for not speaking out more forcefully on the Rohingya issue following bloody violence between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities in Rakhine state in June, which killed 80 people and left tens of thousands displaced.
The clashes had sparked international allegations that human rights violations were being committed against the Rohingya, who the United Nations says are the world's most oppressed group. The Burmese authorities do not regard them as an ethnic group even though they have lived for generations in the country.
Last week, exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama told students in India that he had written to Aung San Suu Kyi about the Rohingya issue but did not receive a response.
"We wrote a letter to Suu Kyi regarding the violence but we got no reply. My representative in [New] Delhi even met the Burmese Ambassador here but it has been four weeks and we have not heard from them. There is no channel for us to approach," the Dalai Lama said, according to the Press Trust of India.
In an indirect reference to her relative silence on the Rohingya issue, Aung San Suu Kyi said earlier that many did not realize that her National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party in parliament, was not in the government.
She said that the NLD is not in a "position to decide what we do and how we operate because we are not a government."
"This needs to be understood by those who wish the NLD to do more."
Aung San Suu Kyi, who arrived on Monday for a nearly three-week U.S. visit, also explained that her NLD gives top priority to human rights and the rule of the law in any resolution of the conflict, noting that such differences are a universal problem and not confined to Burma only.
"I have always said—this is the policy of my party—that human rights and rule of law are necessary in order to bring down tensions in such a situation."
"But in the long run, you have to build up harmony between the communities through understanding, through exchange."
She also stressed that human rights should be applied to "everybody and equally" to all groups.
"To ignore either human rights or rule of law or to insist on human rights and pretend rule of law is another matter will not work. These two have to go together."
Aung San Suu Kyi also said that her NLD party wants to help the government to end the crisis in Rakhine state.
"We [the NLD] do not want to make political capital out of the situation in Rakhine state. We want to give the government all the opportunities it needs to defuse the situation there," she said earlier when speaking at a Washington forum organized by the Asia Society.
"We want to help the government in any way possible to bring about peace in Rakhine state."
Two weeks ago, the United States expressed “great concern” over the humanitarian situation in Rakhine state, following a visit by the American ambassador to the area.
"Broad swathes of both communities have been affected, and the humanitarian situation remains of great concern,” the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon said in a statement after the visit by a group led by newly appointed Ambassador Derek Mitchell and senior State Department official Joseph Yun.
“Going forward, it will be important to address the urgent needs, while also laying the groundwork for a long-term, sustainable and just solution” to the conflict, the embassy said.
Burmese President Thein Sein recently suggested that the Rohingyas should be deported, raising an outcry from rights groups. Thousands of Buddhist monks took to the streets to back his call and protest against the Rohingyas.
Aung San Suu Kyi also touched on the following subjects in her interview with RFA:
Transition to democracy:
Asked what her biggest concern was during the current transition in Burma, she said, “My great concern is to empower the people to be able to build the kind of society they want. That is what democracy means,” she said.
Burma, she said, suffered a setback during years under a poor education system and has more work to do to build up a “healthy political culture” in which people are willing to compromise, she said.
“We are weak when it comes to negotiated compromise. It’s not part of our society or culture.”
But she said that the people were learning quickly. “If we had not been capable of negotiated compromise, we would not be where we are now.”
Speculations that Thein Sein will win the next Nobel Peace Prize:
Asked if Thein Sein could be awarded the next Nobel Peace Prize for spearheading Burma’s reforms since his government came to power last March, she said she had not heard it was a possibility.
“I don’t believe in engaging in speculation,” she said.
In her remarks at the Asia Society, she also spoke on:
2010 elections held by the previous military junta:
She said that the opposition had “grave doubts” about how the government conducted the 2010 elections, which were widely seen as “deeply flawed.”
The NLD had been banned for boycotting the 2010 elections, but the reformist President Thein Sein allowed the party to re-register after his nominally-civilian government took power in March last year.
Concerns over the Constitution framed by the junta:
Aung San Suu Kyi criticized the current government for requiring new members of parliament from her party to swear to promise to protect the 2008 constitution which “we felt was not conducive to the building of a genuine democratic society.”
The constitution guaranteed that the military would maintain a chokehold on the parliament.
Easing of sanctions:
"I do support the easing of sanctions because I think that our people must start to take responsibility for their own destiny," she said.
"We should not depend on U.S. sanctions to keep up the momentum for democracy. We have got to work at it ourselves."
“It does not mean that because the U.S. is engaging with Burma it should in any way be seen as a hostile step towards China,” she said. China was a key ally of Burma during the decades of military rule.
“We can use our new situation to strengthen relations between all three countries. For us—to put it very simply—it would be to our advantage for the U.S. and China to establish friendly relations.”
Reported by Nyein Shwe for RFA's Burmese service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai, Joshua Lipes and Rachel Vandenbrink.