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Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi warned Saturday that communal violence and weak “rule of law” could scare off investors despite the country’s rapid pace of political and economic reform.
The democracy icon told a business conference in Singapore that a stalemate in resolving protracted insurgencies, inter-ethnic conflicts and lack of robust laws posed the biggest challenges to development in the former pariah state.
“Although we have achieved ceasefires, we have not really achieve
d a peace settlement… In addition to that, we have communal tensions and communal outbreaks of violence,” Suu Kyi said in a keynote address at the high-level conference.
“Unless we get these sorted out, we are not going to get the kind of stable, peaceful society where people would be happy to invest in.”
Resource-rich Burma has been shaken by recent religious violence that has exposed deepening national faultlines despite the reforms launched by President Thein Sein in the formerly military-ruled nation.
About 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of violence since June 2012, mainly minority Rohingya Muslims who have been the target of riots and a nationalistic campaign led by radical monks.
“We have to start with rule of law, that is what I have always said, and people are not satisfied with the answer because it is not exciting enough,” the 68-year-old said, responding to a question after her speech about ending the country’s ethnic violence.
While she is venerated for her struggle for democracy, some human rights activists have now accused the Nobel Prize laureate of failing to clearly condemn anti-Muslim actions in the Buddhist-majority nation.
“If people are frightened that they will be killed, if people are frightened that their goods will be taken away from them or if their houses will be burned down above their heads, you will not be able to persuade them to sit down to sort out their differences,” she said.
Suu Kyi said the international community could help by “giving us your understanding (and) by trying to go deeper into the reasons why communal conflicts have been taking place”.
“Please study the situation in depth, please don’t take a superficial look at it, and try to condemn one community or another.”
Suu Kyi, who has said she will run for president in 2015, also said investors should continue to make inroads in Burma, even if they have concerns about cronyism and the lack of an independent judiciary.
“I wouldn’t advise you to draw out, I would like you to continue with your investments but to make them as responsible as possible,” she said.
Suu Kyi told investors to exercise “cautious optimism” about the sweeping political and economic reforms under President Thein Sein.
“It is not by painting an over-optimistic picture of our country that you can help us, it is only by being realistic about what we need to do that you will be able to help us,” she said.