Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi blamed the violence between Buddhists and Muslims in her country on a “climate of fear” resulting from living many years under a dictatorial regime.
“This is the result of our sufferings under a dictatorial regime. I think that if you live under a dictatorship for many years people do not like to trust one another – a dictatorship generates a climate of mistrust,” she said.
Concerning the 140,000 Muslims who have been forced to leave their homes, she said that many Buddhists had also fled Myanmar, formerly called Burma.
She denied that Muslims have been subjected to ethnic cleansing, according to a BBC report.
Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has been criticized for not defending Muslims since she was released from house arrest two years ago.
Violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims has broken out in the state of Rakhine over the past two years, with clashes between the two groups also occurring in central Myanmar.
Hundreds of Muslims have been killed, often by Buddhist mobs armed with knives and sticks.
An estimated 89 percent of the population of Myanmar is Buddhist, while Muslims make up about 4 percent.
“I think the problem is due to the fear felt by both sides,” Ms Suu Kyi told the BBC.
“Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subjected to violence.”
“This fear is what is leading to all this trouble.”
She said tensions had been inflamed by a worldwide perception that global Muslim power was “very great”. This perception is also felt in Myanmar.
She said it was up to the government to end the violence and allow the return of Buddhist refugees who had been forced to leave the country to escape political persecution.
The effective implementation of the rule of law was essential, she said.
“Before people can sit down and sort out their differences they have to feel safe. If they feel that they are going to be killed in their beds they are not going to talk about harmony or learn to understand one another.”
She said Myanmar still had a long way to go before becoming fully democratic.
“People assume too readily that on a path to democracy – that we are democratising at a fast rate – but it is not happening like that at all.”