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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Rohingyas are Bangladeshis, Suu Kyi told David Cameron

Cameron recalled his 2013 meeting with Suu Kyi in his memoir, ‘For The Record’, released on Thursday.

world Updated: Sep 19, 2019 13:55 IST
Former Prime Minister David Cameron
Former Prime Minister David Cameron(AP file photo)
         

Former Prime Minister David Cameron has recorded his disappointment with Myanmar state counsellor Aung Saan Suu Kyi over the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in the country, particularly over her claim that “they are Bangladeshis”.

Cameron recalled his 2013 meeting with Suu Kyi in his memoir, ‘For The Record’, released on Thursday. The Myanmar leader was feted by western countries for her pro-democracy struggle but is now a pariah due to her not condemning or acting on the Rohingya issue.

“The disappointment came from Burma. I had visited the long-time military dictatorship a year earlier, just after it had taken its first steps towards democracy by holding by-elections. No UK PM had visited since independence in 1948”.

Britain continues to refer to the country by its earlier name of Burma.

Cameron writes: “I met the pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, who would soon run for the presidency, and reflected on what an amazing story hers could be: from fifteen years of house arrest to transforming her country into a real democracy”.

“However, by the time she came to visit London in October 2013, all eyes were on her country’s Rohingya Muslims, who were being driven out of their homes by Buddhist Rakhines. There were stories of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing. The world is watching, I told her. Her reply was telling: ‘They are not really Burmese. They are Bangladeshis.’ She became de facto leader in 2015, and the violence against the Rohingya went on.

Dwelling on foreign affairs challenges during his prime ministership from 2010 to 2016, Cameron, who resigned soon after the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union, notes how a chill took over ties with China after he met the Dalai Lama in London in 2012.

“The frustration came from China. Every year, the Dalai Lama visited Britain and asked for a prime-ministerial meeting. Given that China didn’t recognise Tibet’s independence (and neither did the UK), and that until recently he ran an alternative government in exile, such a meeting would alienate the very people we were trying to develop a relationship with”.

“But politics aside, this elderly monk who preached peace and kindness was the leader of a religion. So I said I would meet him not as a political leader but as a religious leader, at St Paul’s Cathedral, where he was seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury”.

“The Foreign Office said the Chinese would pretend to be cross about this for a couple of months, but it would blow over. Instead, our ambassador in Beijing was summoned for a dressing-down, and the Chinese government released a statement condemning our action”.

“Ministerial visits were cancelled in both directions. The freeze lasted eighteen months, and only came to an end when George Osborne was invited to visit in October 2013”, Cameron writes.

Cameron did not meet the Dalai Lama again, evoking criticism from the Tibetan spiritual leader in 2015 that he had buckled to Chinese pressure in exchange for trade and financial rewards: “Money, money, money. That’s what this is about. Where is morality?”

First Published: Sep 19, 2019 13:55 IST

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