Aung San Suu Kyi downplays anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — On Thursday evening in the capital of Naypyidaw, opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she thought the number of Buddhist monks who hold extremist anti-Muslim views was limited.

"I don't know how big the movement is and I don't know how widespread this movement is," Suu Kyi said, addressing a group of young Burmese and American journalists. "I do not think that any extremist movement is good but I do not think that the majority of our monks or our people are extremist."

In the past year, sectarian violence has killed 200 and left around 150,000 displaced — most of them Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine State. A culture of anti-Muslim discrimination has taken root in Myanmar, pushed on by a movement known as “969” led by a Mandalay monk named Ashin Wirathu.

Earlier Thursday, a group of around 100 monks met in Yangon to continue working on a proposed law that would restrict the rights of interfaith marriages. Suu Kyi said she hadn't heard much about the meeting, but had heard that well-known monk U Nyarnisara spoke of the need for more tolerance and control of violent impulses.

A broader question from a Radio Free Asia reporter, which mentioned recent criticism that Suu Kyi had been silent on ethnic and anti-Muslim violence as well as economic exploitation by the mining sector, brought a less measured response. "People say that I am silent; actually I am talking a lot," Suu Kyi said in Burmese, growing visibly irritated. "If people don't like what I said, they say I am silent."

Afterwards, as the journalists and other guests gathered for a photo-op with Suu Kyi, she told the RFA journalist that he should ask President Thein Sein the same question. In her prepared remarks to the group assembled from the Open Hands Initiative-GlobalPost "Burma Telling Its Own Story" reporting fellowship, Suu Kyi called for Burmese journalists to uphold "old fashioned" ideals of integrity and accuracy.

Tin Aung Kyaw contributed to this report.