Aung San Suu Kyi has denied security forces have carried out ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, speaking to the BBC after the UN rights council agreed to investigate allegations of rape, murder and torture against the army.
Rights groups say hundreds of the stateless group were killed in a months-long army crackdown following deadly attacks on Myanmar border police posts.
Almost 75,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh where they have related grisly accounts of army abuse.
Myanmar's de facto leader Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate whose international star as a rights defender is waning over the treatment of the Rohingya, has not spoken out in defence of the persecuted minority.
She has also not condemned the crackdown, which UN investigators who spoke to escapees said likely amounted to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Instead she has called for space to handle the incendiary issue in a country where the more than one million Rohingya are widely vilified as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
"I don't think there is ethnic cleansing going on," Suu Kyi said in a rare interview televised on Wednesday.
"I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening."
Most Rohingya are denied citizenship. Tens of thousands have languished in displacement camps since 2012 when religious violence between Muslims and Buddhists tore through Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh.
The latest violence unfurled in October last year when scores of armed militants claiming to represent Rohingya rights ambushed police border posts, prompting the army to lockdown a remote wedge of land during extensive air and ground "clearance" operations.