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Aung San Suu Kyi met by protesters, criticism upon receiving Freedom of London award

Burma State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi receives Honorary Freedom of the City of London at Guildhall on May 8, 2017. Source: City of London

BURMA’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi was met with a group of protesters and criticism by human rights groups upon being awarded an Honorary Freedom of the City of London during an official state visit to the UK ahead of peace talks.

The Nobel laureate was awarded London’s “most prestigious honour” on Monday for her “non-violent struggle over many years for democracy and her steadfast dedication to create a society where people can live in peace, security and freedom.”

As she arrived at Guildhall for the award ceremony, Suu Kyi was met by a group of demonstrators who were protesting Burma’s treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority, chanting “shame on you” and “Rohingyas are dying.”

A protester holds a placard as Aung San Suu Kyi visits the Guildhall in London, Britain May 8, 2017. Source: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

“I’m so disappointed. She needs to stand on her moral ground—people have been dying, people have been raped,” said former security assistant to Suu Kyi, Ko Aung to The Irrawaddy.

Some groups including the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, Restlessbeings and Kachin National Organisation UK started a petition to “denounce” and “condemn” the protests, claiming that “Suu Kyi has been working hard on implementing outcome of Dr Kofi Arnan commission recommendations.”

“What was London thinking?” asked Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

Despite decades of fighting for democracy and human rights in Burma, Suu Kyi has repeatedly denied ethnic cleansing in Muslim-majority Rakhine State since coming to power in April 2016 despite widely verified independent claims to the contrary.

Since a military crackdown began last October, the UN has claimed that more than 1,000 Rohingya have been killed in the army’s operations in Rakhine, and at least 70,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

In late April, ultranationalist monk Ashin Wirathu joined a group of around 100 monks and Buddhist nationalists who forcibly shut down four Islamic schools in Thaketa Township near Yangon, before travelling to the Rakhine State to drum support among Buddhist Burmese villagers.

SEE ALSO: ‘I’m no Mother Teresa’ says Suu Kyi, denying ethnic cleansing

“Today Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung Sang Suu Kyi receives the freedom of London – but what of the freedoms she promised her own people?” said Paul Donowitz of the international anti-corruption NGO Global Witness.

Amid ongoing tensions and violence, the second session of the 21st Century Panglong conference will begin in Burma on May 24 with the aim of establishing peace with the country’s ethnic armed groups.

“The civil wars she pledged to end are getting worse in the north and west, not better. Here struggles for control of the country’s vast jade sector fuels fighting and abuses by the military elites and crony companies that are meant to be a thing of the past,” added Donowitz.

“If she is to deliver the peace she promised Myanmar, Suu Kyi must focus on ejecting men with guns from the mines and sharing the country’s riches fairly. That needs to start at the upcoming peace talks.”

While constitutionally barred from being president, Suu Kyi is the de facto leader of Burma and serves as its foreign minister.

A meeting between the Burmese State Counsellor the Pope at the Vatican early May established diplomatic ties for the first time.


(c) 2017 Asian Correspondent

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