Myanmar's top Catholic: Don't attack Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar's top Catholic leader is adding pressure to the country's defacto leader, telling Aung San Suu Kyi she 'should have spoken out'.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, said Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Rakhine State face 'immense' suffering as he joined mounting calls for the government to intervene.

REUTERS/Soe Zeya TunCardinal Charles Maung Bo was appointed the country’s top Catholic in 2015, making him the first-ever archbishop from Myanmar to join the Catholic College of Cardinals, the church’s top global body from which popes are selected.

However, he urged understanding for her position and for the political situation in Myanmar.

'The world looks at Aung San Suu Kyi with the same lens with which it looked at her during her struggle for democracy,' Bo told TIME in an email. 'Now she is part of the government, she is a political leader. Surely she should have spoken out.'

Bo added the Rohingyas plight had been exacerbated by years of abuse and neglect.

'Aung San Suu Kyi is walking a tight rope walk,' he said. 'Already dark forces are clamoring for return to army rule.'

But he insisted Aung San Suu Kyi was still the hope for Myanmar.

'Stigmatizing Aung San Suu Kyi and attacking her through media is not a long term solution,' he said.

'A false step will see her out of government and that would be the end of any dream of democracy. We should always remember the army took back democracy three times in the history of Myanmar.'

He also hit back at suggestions of a genocide after the UN described the crisis as a 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing'.

Bo said: 'In this context, it is advisable at this time not to qualify the situation as genocide or ethnic cleansing against the Muslim community – which the government does not recognise as an ethnic nationality but as a group of interlopers from Bangladesh.

'It is important to try to diffuse the tension and anger in the region, and use language that will not rile either side.'

It comes as Aung San Suu Kyi plans to skip a crucial United Nations meeting next week to discuss the crisis after a senior UN official accused her government of ethnic cleansing.

In one of the most forthright condemnations of the army's treatment of the minority group, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told the United Nation's human rights council the attacks were 'clearly disproportionate' to militants' actions last month.

A newly formed group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), targeted a police outpost in August, killing nine and triggering a catastrophic crackdown.

More than 310,000 people have fled across the border into Bangladesh in less than three weeks with many more trapped on the border amid accusations of landmines being planted to stop their escape.

'I call on the government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred, and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population,' Zeid said.

'Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.'

The conflict centres around 1.1million Rohingyas, most of whom are Muslim, who have lived in Myanmar for generations. Despite their long standing roots the majority Burmese ethnicity, who are largely Buddhist and control the army, do not recognise them as citizens.

Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to condemn the military's actions, instead blaming 'fake news' and a wholesale misinformation campaign that was aiding 'terrorists'.

She plans to give a 'state of the union' address on Tuesday, according to TIME.