Council to decide on plan to strip Myanmar leader of freedom of Sheffield

The family of Aung San Suu Kyi are presented with the Freedom of the City by Sheffield councillors in 2005.
The family of Aung San Suu Kyi are presented with the Freedom of the City by Sheffield councillors in 2005.
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Sheffield councillors will today decide whether or not to withdraw the freedom of the city from a global leader.

In September community campaigner Shahid Ali called for the honour to be stripped from Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to stop or condemn the persecution of the a Muslim group in her country.

A protest called for the freedom to be stripped.

A protest called for the freedom to be stripped.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - since the summer. Attacks from a militant Rohingya group led to violent retaliation from the country's military, and many settlements in the Rakhine state to the north of Myanmar have been burned to the ground.

The Rohingya are seen by some in Myanmar as second class citizens, and the UN has called the persecution a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is now the country's figurehead after facing years of persecution from the military herself.

Although she has been installed as de-facto leader in her 'counsellor' role, she does not have much influence on the military. But her lack of counter-action or condemnation of the attacks on the Rohingya has led to widespread global outcry.

A protest was held in Sheffield earlier this year.

This afternoon councillors will debate whether or not to strip Suu Kyi of the freedom of the city awarded to her in 2005 because of her work to bring democracy to Myanmar.

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said: “I believe that Aung San Suu Kyi has a duty to the Rohingya and, as a renowned champion of democracy and human rights, she must do all she can to end the violence now and allow the UN and international aid agencies into Rakhine state.

“Clearly this is not a step we would want to take, however, given her failure to respond to widespread international pleas to address the situation or even condemn the actions of the military we believe it is no longer appropriate for Aung San Suu Kyi to hold freedom of the city, which is why we are proposing to remove it next week.”

But not everyone in Sheffield is united in their condemnation of Suu Kyi.

Win Cho, a member of the Karen ethnic group who fled persecution in Myanmar, has lived in the city for over a decade. He can clearly sympathise with the plight of the Rohingya refugees. But he believes his country's leader can do little to intervene.

"It's very sad to see everyone attacking Aung San Suu Kyi," he said.

"Most of us think that the real people who are committing crime is the military."

Win Cho said there was 'little room to manoeuvre' for Suu Kyi, adding: "If you make one wrong move we will have to go back to square one."

The former refugee believes many within Myanmar view the Rohingya as a threat because of the militant groups that have previously caused trouble.

"We think the international community should support Aung San Suu Kyi to resolve the problems," he said.

"The military is committing many atrocities in northern Burma and no one is interested. The so-called Muslim leaders are only interested in one particular issue in Burma even though we have so much problems.

"When Karen people were persecuted by the military Malaysian and Indonesian governments never intervened."