Members of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority residing in Japan said they have been barred from a gathering to welcome democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi when she visits the country from Saturday.
It is Suu Kyi’s first visit to Japan in nearly three decades, after spending time as a researcher at Kyoto University from 1985-86.
During her six-day trip, the Nobel Peace prize laureate is expected to hold meetings with some of the approximately 10,000 Myanmar nationals living in Japan, as well as with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
But Zaw Min Htut, 42, the leader of some 200 Rohingya Muslims in Japan, said Thursday that his people had been told they were not welcome at events Suu Kyi will attend.
“Because some Buddhist minorities are against our participation, even though I’ve been in Japan for decades and have helped other Myanmar nationals here, I was told by compatriot event organizers I won’t be able to see Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.
The apparent tensions between groupings within the expatriate Myanmar community underline growing problems between Muslims and Buddhists at home that have cast a shadow over the country’s much-vaunted political reforms of recent years.
At least 43 people were killed in March as mosques and Muslim homes were destroyed in central Myanmar, in a wave of communal violence that witnesses say appeared to have been well organized. The recent disorder was the worst since an eruption of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year that left scores dead and tens of thousands — mainly Muslims — displaced.
The Rohingya have been described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Activists have expressed disappointment that Suu Kyi, who was detained under house arrest for 15 years by the country’s former junta, has remained largely silent about several episodes of communal bloodshed.
“I would really like to meet her in person, but I don’t want there to be any quarrels,” Zaw Min Htut said. “I want her to become a mediator in ethnic conflicts, because without settlement of the issue, Myanmar will not become a truly peaceful nation, even if it becomes a democracy.”
An official from the Foreign Ministry said decisions on participation at the event were taken by organizers and had nothing to do with the ministry.
Zaw Min Htut said he had met ministry officials Wednesday and handed over a letter to Kishida, asking him to convey his wish that Suu Kyi play a leading role in ending intercommunal violence.
Suu Kyi’s connection to Japan stems from her father, Gen. Aung San, who led the independence movement in the country then known as Burma against British colonial rule. From late 1940 he spent several months in Japan, with the Imperial army — then involved in a brutal campaign of conquest across Asia — offering succor, including weaponry, manpower and cash.
Two years later he established a Japanese-backed government in Burma, but by 1945 had enlisted the help of the British to liberate the country from Tokyo’s colonial rule.