Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's recent claim that she was refraining from commenting on the army's ongoing conflict with the Kachin Independence Organization because she does not want to inflame the situation, brought a swift rebuke from an international coalition of Kachin exiles, who heavily criticized the NLD leader in an open letter sent on Thursday.
“Given the climate of violence, fear and suffering our people are enduring everyday, it is disheartening not to hear you speaking out against injustice for those who have been forcibly silent, instead you declared you have a soft spot for Tatmadaw [Burma's military] that your father founded, the very institution that is responsible for such miseries,” said the letter.
The letter was signed by 23 organizations including the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT), the Kachin National Organization (KNO) and the Pan Kachin Development Society (PKDS).
The letter reminded Aung San Suu Kyi of the serious human rights abuses the army stands accused of inflicting on civilians in Kachin and parts of north western Shan states including rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. Alleged war crimes which respected organizations like Human Rights Watch say remain ongoing as the military continues its offensive against the KIO.
“We Kachin had looked to you to speak out about the abuses being committed against our people at least based on humanitarian grounds as you were once silenced by the same regime and were eventually triumphant by unwavering voices of freedom,” the letters said.
While many Kachin activists and campaigners have been disappointed for some time by Aung San Kyi's stance on the Kachin conflict, the open letter was prompted by comments the Nobel Peace Prize Winner made while addressing members of the Burmese community at Queen College in New York on Sunday.
Speaking about the Kachin conflict, Aung San Suu Kyi claimed “There are people who criticized me when I remained silence on this case. They can do so as they are not satisfied with me. But, for me, I do not want to add fire to any side of the conflict,” the Irrawaddy website reported the opposition leader as saying.
The aforementioned comments angered many Kachin because they appear to suggest Aung San Suu Kyi believes that Kachin civilians caught up in the conflict are equally responsible for their predicament. One activist who spoke to the Kachin News Group called Aung San Suu Kyi comments incredibly hurtful and ignorant, “It’s clear she doesn't care about the army killing civilians in Kachin state otherwise she would have condemned these killings long ago, she's stopped being an opposition leader and now she's little more than President Thein Sein's spokesperson.”
The letter also chastised Aung San Suu Kyi for comments she made during a speech at the London School of Economics (LSE) in June. During her talk at LSE Aung San Suu Kyi responded to a question from a Kachin audience member about why she hadn't denounced military abuses in Kachin state by saying she couldn't condemn what is happening because an “independent observers” on the ground which has resulted in situation where there are “different accusations coming in from different directions”, she said.
The comments at LSE prompted Kachin activists in the US to boycott a ceremony held in Washington DC earlier this month in which Burma's national icon received an award from the US congress, her follow up comments in New York resulted in further protest from Kachin exiles. “You are yet to take a stance on the human rights abuses taking place in Kachin State, your statement [made at Queen College], combined with the comments you made at the LSE gives the impression to the people of Burma and international community that you do not believe human rights abuses are taking place,” the letter said.