Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi broke her silence Wednesday on a refugee crisis that has sent 146,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh in the past two weeks.
In a statement issued by her office on Facebook on Wednesday, Myanmar’s de facto leader said her government had "already started defending all the people ... in the best way possible.”
The human-rights icon has previously been accused of remaining “silent” when it comes to abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslim population.
Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest before her party won a 2015 election, had also faced growing criticism over the treatment of the Rohingya amid a bloody military crackdown following attacks by insurgents.
"We know very well, more than most, what it means to be deprived of human rights and democratic protection," the statement quoted Suu Kyi as saying. "So we make sure that all the people in our country are entitled to protection of their rights as well."
Her comments came as recent violence in Rakhine state has prompted an average of 15,000 Rohingya refugees to flee across the border with Bangladesh each day since Aug. 25, according to the UNHCR.
The latest violence began 12 days ago when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base.
The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh.
Myanmar's military has accused the militants of "terrorist" atrocities against non-Muslim civilians as well as burning down their own villages.
However, Rohingya people and rights groups accuse the army of a brutal campaign of reprisals against civilians, with one UN official last year suggesting that "crimes against humanity" had occurred.
In addition to land routes, some of the Rohingya are also fleeing by sea. On Wednesday, police told the Associated Press that a trawler carrying refugees capsized off the coast of Myanmar, killing at least five people.
Those deaths came as an aid group, which has been rescuing migrants attempting the perilous journey from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea, has said it will relocate one of its ships to Myanmar.
The Migrant Offshore Aid Station said it aimed to help the Rohingya people who “have been defined as the most persecuted minority in the world by the UN.”