SITTWE, Myanmar - Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Thursday urged people "not to quarrel" as she visited Rakhine State for the first time since a military crackdown that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the country.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has faced heavy international criticism for not taking a higher profile in responding to what U.N. officials have called "ethnic cleansing" by the army.
Myanmar has rejected the accusations of ethnic cleansing, saying its security forces launched a counter-insurgency operation after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts in northern Rakhine on Aug. 25.
On Thursday, amid heightened security, Suu Kyi boarded a military helicopter at Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, to be taken to Maungdaw, one of the districts worst hit by the violence.
Suu Kyi met a group of Muslim religious leaders, said Chris Lewa, of the Arakan Project monitoring group, citing Rohingya sources.
"She only said three things to the people - they should live peacefully, the government is there to help them, and they should not quarrel among each other."
"She only said three things to the people - they should live peacefully, the government is there to help them, and they should not quarrel among each other," Lewa said, quoting information from a religious leader who was present.
Rohingya began fleeing predominantly Buddhist Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh in late August to escape violence in the wake of a military counter-insurgency operation launched after Rohingya militants attacked security posts in Rakhine State.
A U.S. State Department delegation will be in Bangladesh on Friday and Saturday to discuss the humanitarian crisis and human rights concerns stemming from the crisis in Rakhine state.
The delegation will be led by Simon Henshaw, acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the department said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Reuters photographers saw thousands of desperate Rohingya wade through shallows and narrow creeks between islands of the Naf river to reach neighbouring Bangladesh as the exodus begun two months ago was far from over.
Some had small boats or pulled makeshift rafts to get to Bangladesh on the river's western bank, but most walked, children cradled in their arms and the elderly carried on their backs, with sacks of belongings tied to staves on their shoulders.
Reaching the far side, some women and older people had to be pulled through the mud to reach dry land atop steep banks.
More than 4,000 crossed at different points on the river on Wednesday, Major Mohammed Iqbal, a Bangladesh security official in the southern district of Cox's Bazar, told Reuters.