A Much-Changed Icon, Aung San Suu Kyi Speaks About Rohingya

She steadfastly refused to criticize the Myanmar military, which has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape and village-burning.

Instead, she boasted that Muslims living in the violence-torn area had access to health care and radio broadcasts.

It was a remarkable parroting of the language of the generals who locked her up for the better part of two decades. That confinement made a political legend out of her: an elegant and steadfast figure who vanquished the military with no weapons but her principles.

But officials in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government have accused the Rohingya, who have suffered decades of persecution and have been mostly stripped of their citizenship, of faking rape and torching their own houses in a bid to hijack international public opinion. She has done nothing to correct the record.

A Facebook page associated with her office suggested that international aid groups were colluding with Rohingya militants, whose attack on Myanmar police posts and an army base precipitated the fierce military counteroffensive. In a statement, her government labeled the insurgent strikes “brutal acts of terrorism.”

It has been a stunning reversal for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a 72-year-old paragon of moral authority, who was once celebrated among the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to her for her “nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

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Supporters of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, on Tuesday.

Credit
Nyein Chan Naing/European Pressphoto Agency

But there were worrisome signs from the moment she entered a power-sharing agreement with the military after her National League for Democracy won 2015 elections.

Myanmar’s generals — who ruled the country for nearly half a century and turned a resource-rich land once known as Burma into an economic failure — stage-managed every facet of the political transition. The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar Army is known, made sure to keep the most important levers of power for itself. It also effectively relegated Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to the post of state counselor by designing a Constitution that kept her from the presidency.

“It’s always a dance with the generals,” said U Win Htein, an N.L.D. party elder. “She needs to be very quick on her feet.”

Mr. Win Htein, a…

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