Boris Johnson has suggested Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi does not understand the “full extent, the horror” of the Rohingya refugee crisis in her own country.
The Foreign Secretary urged the Nobel Peace Prize winner to show “leadership” in response to the humanitarian situation in the country, which he described as unprecedented in his lifetime.
In a visit to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, Mr Johnson held talks with Ms Suu Kyi, as well as viewing first hand the destruction in Rakhine state.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims are believed to have fled the western region into neighbouring Bangladesh since an outbreak of violence in August last year.
“The difficulty is that, to be honest, I’m not sure she [Ms Suu Kyi] really understands the full horror of what has happened up here,” the Foreign Secretary said.
“I don’t think she’s been up in a helicopter to see what we have seen today.
“And, really, what I was trying to get over to her is the importance of her leadership.
“I believe in her and I believe in her leadership. I think she’s done incredible things in her life.
“I’m very sad to see what’s happening to Burma now and to see the direction the country is going.
“I believe she can still make a change and make a difference.”
Mr Johnson also revealed he had urged Ms Suu Kyi to allow international aid agencies into Rakhine state to prepare for the return of refugees “in a way that is safe and voluntary and dignified”.
But he insisted Rohingya should not merely be moved from a refugee camp on one side of the border to another camp inside Myanmar.
The Foreign Secretary warned of a need to be “realistic” about the pace of the return of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, as he highlighted how there is “a lot of fear” among those displaced.
Ms Suu Kyi has faced calls to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize over the crisis, which has seen Myanmar’s military – backed by local Buddhist groups – allegedly carrying out mass killings, rapes and the burning of Rohingya villages.
Earlier this month, a senior United Nations official said the violence bears “the hallmarks of a genocide”.
Asked whether Myanmar’s authorities were in denial about the violence, Mr Johnson said: “I’m afraid I have to say that talking to politicians in Naypyidaw, in the capital today, listening to Daw Suu, I don’t think it has come through to her the full extent, the horror of what has happened, the sheer devastation.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen anything like it done by mankind against our fellow man. I’ve seen nothing like it in my life.
“Hundreds of villages torched. It’s absolutely devastating.”
The Foreign Secretary revealed local villagers “are still so frightened” they were unable to tell him who had burned down their homes during his visit to Rakhine state.
But he dismissed a “farcical account” that the villagers themselves had set alight to their own properties.
Mr Johnson will complete his tour of Asia, in which he has also met members of Bangladesh’s government, with a trip to Thailand on Monday for talks with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
(c) Sky News 2018: Boris Johnson: Suu Kyi does not understand ‘horror’ of Rohingya crisis