WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday he had spoken with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and that she said she was working to get aid to the Rohingya Muslim areas in the Southeast Asian nation that were affected by violence.
Suu Kyi “agreed with the need for immediate and improved access of humanitarian assistance to the region, particularly by the International Red Cross, and she conveyed that she is working toward that end,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
McConnell, whose Republicans control majorities in both houses of Congress, repeated earlier criticism of a resolution introduced in the U.S. Senate urging Suu Kyi to do more for Myanmar’s ethnic minority Rohingya population, and lessening the chance that any such measure could pass.
McConnell has had close ties to Suu Kyi for years. He said Suu Kyi, a Nobel prize laureate and de facto head of the government in Myanmar, also known as Burma, told him when they spoke on Wednesday that violations of human rights would need to be addressed.
Attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts last month triggered an army operation that has killed more than 400 people, destroyed over 6,800 houses and sent nearly 400,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi has been a target of criticism from fellow Nobel laureates and religious leaders across the world for failing to condemn human rights abuses against the Rohingya during the military’s fierce response to Rohingya militant attacks.
The United Nations appealed Thursday for massive help for the nearly 400,000 who fled to Bangladesh, amid concern the number could keep rising unless Myanmar ends what critics denounce as “ethnic cleansing.”
McConnell said Suu Kyi’s position in the government was “exceedingly difficult” and that as a civilian, she had virtually no authority over the military. He warned that weakening her could interfere with the country’s transition from decades of military rule.
McConnell said he expected a briefing soon from Suu Kyi’s office and that she was “trying very hard to improve conditions” for the Rohingya.
“Burma’s path to representative government is not at all certain and is certainly not over. And attacking the single political leader who has worked to further democracy within Burma is likely to hinder the objective over the long run,” McConnell concluded.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum