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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Geldof hands back Dublin honour in Myanmar protest

The activist and musician refused to keep his freedom of Dublin while Aung San Suu Kyi held the award

Irish musician Bob Geldof holds aloft his Freedom of the City of Dublin scroll as he prepares to return it at Dublin City Hall. AFP/Paul Faith
Irish musician Bob Geldof holds aloft his Freedom of the City of Dublin scroll as he prepares to return it at Dublin City Hall. AFP/Paul Faith

Bob Geldof has handed back his Freedom of the City of Dublin in protest at the Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who also holds the award, calling her a “handmaiden to genocide”.

The musician and activist launched a stinging attack on Ms Suu Kyi, who has not condemned the actions of her country’s military which have led to more than 600,000 Muslims from the state of Rakhine fleeing to Bangladesh.

A United Nations official has referred to the operations of the military as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, and the White House has said it was “deeply troubled” by the crisis and by “allegations of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, burning of villages, massacres, and rape, by security forces and by civilians acting with these forces’ consent.”

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson plans to travel to Myanmar on Wednesday to meet Ms Suu Kyi, as well as army chief general Min Aung Hlaing.

“I am a very proud Dubliner but cannot in all conscience continue to be one of the honoured few to have received this great tribute whilst Aung San Suu Kyi remains amongst that number,” Geldof said.

“In short, I do not wish to be associated in any way with an individual currently engaged in the mass ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of north west Burma.”

“Her association with our city shames us all and we should have no truck with it, even by default. We honoured her, now she appals and shames us,” Geldof said.

“The moment she is stripped of her Dublin freedom perhaps the council would see fit to restore to me that which I take such pride in. If not so be it. Please accept this small gesture and the sadness that accompanies it.”

Asked whether the move was a PR stunt, Mr Geldof said: “It is a PR stunt to try to dissociate this city from a murderer.”

Talking of Ms Suu Kyi, he said: “We thought she was one thing, and we've been duped.”

He added: “She should hand back her Nobel Prize, she should hand back her Freedom of the City... and perhaps she should appear at the Hague tribunals.”

Ms Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 in recognition of her human rights activism against the military junta which ruled the country for decades. Her plight became a global cause celebre, and she was feted by the likes of Geldof and given honours such as the freedom of cities.

She received the freedom of Dublin in 1999 while under house arrest picked up her award in 2012, two years after she was released.

Mr Geldof’s attack followed a statement from fellow Irish musicians U2, who put out a statement on Saturday criticising Ms Suu Kyi. “When she came to Dublin to thank Ireland and Amnesty International, we Irish could not have been more proud,” it said.

“When her party the NLD won a landslide in the elections and she stood her ground to become de-facto head of the country, an impossible journey seemed to be reaching its destination.”

The band then say that they “never imagined” Ms Suu Kyi would be complicit in the brutality in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, it emerged on Monday that the Myanmar army had removed from charge the general in charge of Rakhine state.

No reason was given why major general Maung Maung Soe was transferred from his post as the head of western command in Rakhine.