YANGON - Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected a suggestion she is soft on the military, which the United Nations has accused of ethnic cleansing, saying her relationship with the generals was normal and her objective was national reconciliation.
Suu Kyi condemned on Tuesday rights abuses in Rakhine State, where conflict that began last month has forced 421,000 Rohingya Muslims to seek refuge in Bangladesh, and said violators would be punished.
However, in her first address to the Buddhist-majority nation on the crisis, she did not address UN accusations of ethnic cleansing by the security forces, drawing cool international responses.
"We've never changed our stand," Suu Kyi said in an interview with Radio Free Asia, when asked if she had softened her stance on the military, which she challenged for years in her campaign for democracy.
"Our goal has been national reconciliation from the very beginning. We have never criticised the military itself, but only their actions. We may disagree on these types of actions."
She cited her unsuccessful bid in parliament to change a military-drafted constitution, which bars her from the presidency and gives the military responsibility over security and a veto over charter reform.
"We'll continue to bring changes within the parliament. I’ve stood firm with the military before, and still do now," she told Radio Free Asia.
She again did not refer to the accusations that the military is engaged in ethnic cleansing.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence leader who founded the army, has for years been feted in the West as a champion of democracy during years of military rule and house arrest.
But the Nobel Peace laureate has faced growing criticism for saying little about abuses faced by the Rohingya.
Rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have mounted a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the mostly stateless Muslim population.
The UN rights agency said it was "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing".
Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its forces are tackling insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who it has accused of setting the fires and attacking civilians.
Western diplomats and aid officials had been hoping she would issue an unequivocal condemnation of violence and hate speech in her first address on the Rakhine State conflict.
They welcomed the message, as far as it went, but some had been hoping for a stronger stand.