Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi leaves after paying her respects to her late father during a ceremony to mark the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon on July 19, 2018.Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi after paying her respects during a ceremony to mark the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day, Yangon, July 19, 2018. Photo: AFP / Ye Aung Thu

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counselor and de facto national leader, may be having second thoughts about the military’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims and the sentencing of two local Reuters reporters to seven years imprisonment for violating a colonial era security law.

Suu Kyi said today (September 13) during a speech at the World Economic Forum being held in Vietnam that “there are of course ways in which, with hindsight, the situation could have been handled better” in Rakhine state.

The statement represented the first sign of contrition from Suu Kyi, who until now has stood firm behind the military’s actions in the area. Although Suu Kyi lacks command control over the armed forces, she has been criticized for not doing more to stop the carnage.

Her speech appeared to reference a recent United Nations Fact-Finding Mission report that said the military’s “area clearance” operations that have driven some 800,000 refugees across the border into Bangladesh may have had “genocidal intent.”

The UN has recommended that the country’s top military leaders, including commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, should face justice in the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague. The ICC has since agreed it has jurisdiction to investigate the situation, an announcement Myanmar authorities strongly rebuked.

On the two Reuters journalists, she insisted that “the judgment has nothing to do with freedom of expression at all, it had to do with an Official Secrets Act”, while adding that “they have every right to appeal the judgment and to point out why the judgment was wrong.”

The two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, say they were framed and that the allegedly secret documents they had in their possession were planted on them by a police officer.

Their sentencing on September 3 was met by a wide chorus of international criticism. The two events have arguably restored the pariah status the country held during decades of abusive military rule.

Suu Kyi’s speech would seem to indicate the worldwide condemnation on both cases has finally gotten through to former Nobel Peace Prize winner. The condemnation, meanwhile, is starting to hit her government as Western investors and tourists start to shun the country in protest.

Even so, Suu Kyi did not say exactly what could have been done differently in Rakhine and handling the Rohingya because any concrete criticism would likely put her on a collision course with the country’s powerful military, the chief perpetrator of the atrocities the world is reacting to.