Myanmar's Muslims 'barred from Suu Kyi meet' in Japan

Members of Myanmar's Muslim minority Rohingya community said Thursday they have been barred from a gathering to welcome democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi when she visits Japan.

Suu Kyi is expected from Saturday in her first visit to the country for nearly three decades, after time spent as a researcher at Kyoto University in 1985-6.

During her six-day trip, she is expected to have meetings with some of the approximately 10,000 Burmese who live in Japan, as well as with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

But Zaw Min Htut, 42, the leader of some 200 Rohingya Muslims who live in Japan, said his people had been told they were not wanted at events to welcome Suu Kyi.

"Because some Buddhist minorities are against our participation, even though I've been in Japan for decades and have helped other Myanmar nationals here, I was told by compatriot event organisers I won't be able to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," he told AFP, using a term of respect.

The apparent tensions between groupings within the expatriate Myanmar community underline growing problems between Muslims and Buddhists at home that have cast a shadow over much-vaunted political reforms of recent years.

At least 43 people were killed in March as mosques and Muslim homes were destroyed in central Myanmar, in a wave of communal violence that witnesses say appeared to have been well organised.

The recent disorder was the worst since an eruption of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year that left scores dead and tens of thousands -- mainly Muslims -- displaced.

The Rohingya have been described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Activists have expressed disappointment that Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who was locked up for 15 years by the former junta, has remained largely silent about several episodes of communal bloodshed.

"I would really like to meet her in person, but I don't want there to be any quarrels," Zaw Min Htut said.

An official from Japan's foreign ministry said decisions on participation at the event were taken by organisers and were nothing to do with the ministry.

Zau Min Htut said he had met officials Wednesday and handed over a letter to Kishida, asking the minister to convey his wish that Suu Kyi play a leading role in ending inter-communal violence.

"I want her to become a mediator in ethnic conflicts, because without settlement of the issue, Myanmar will not become a truly peaceful nation, even if it becomes a democracy," he told AFP.

Suu Kyi's connection to Japan stems from her father, General Aung San, who led the independence movement in the country then known as Burma against British colonial rule.

From late 1940 he spent several months in Japan, whose Imperial Army -- then involved in a brutal campaign of conquest across Asia -- had offered succour, including cash, weaponry and manpower.

Two years later he established a Japanese-backed government, but by 1945 had enlisted the help of the British to liberate Burma from Tokyo's colonial rule.

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