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Malaysia credits anger at Muslim deaths to Rakhine meet

By P Prem Kumar
December 15, 2016

Says concerned that if crisis in western Myanmar not addressed urgently it will impact security and stability of region

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia has dismissed claims that it is being "un-ASEAN-like" in its response to violence in Myanmar's west in which between 76 and 400 Rohingya have been killed, saying in a strongly worded statement that the issue is no longer domestic, but of regional concern.

Myanmar has highlighted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)'s non-interference principle in its response to countries accusing it of human rights atrocities in its treatment of Rohingya, highlighting fellow member Indonesia's “positive and constructive" approach while criticizing Malaysia's.

In its statement Thursday, Malaysia's ministry of foreign affairs underlined that it had always followed developments in the region, "including Myanmar".

"In this regard, Malaysia is gravely concerned with the recent developments in the northern Rakhine State, which has resulted in the loss of innocent lives and the displacement of people."

Malaysia's raised its concerns following a military crackdown in Rakhine that followed Oct. 9 attacks on police stations in which nine officers died in Maungdaw district near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh.

Myanmar has said that at least 93 people -- 17 soldiers and 76 alleged "attackers" (including six who reportedly died during interrogation) -- were killed and some 575 suspects detained in the attacks and a subsequent military crackdown.

Rohingya advocacy groups, however, claim around 400 Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted groups worldwide -- were killed in the military operations, women were raped and Rohingya villages torched.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak subsequently led a Kuala Lumpur rally -- attended by thousands of Rohingya, many of them refugees -- to tell Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi "that enough is enough".

"I asked my foreign minister to immediately meet her to find a resolution to the issue but she rejected it immediately,” said Razak, who -- along with his cabinet -- has referred to Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya as "genocide” or “ethnic cleansing".

On Dec. 8, the deputy director general at Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aye Aye Soe, highlighted to Anadolu Agency that a pledge by Indonesia's foreign minister, Rento Marsudi, to help Myanmar resolve all conflicts between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine was both “positive and constructive”.

“Indonesia's government understands what Myanmar is facing regarding the situation in Rakhine,” Aye Aye Soe said by phone.

“Unlike Malaysia, Indonesia shows respect to Myanmar and regional principles,” he said, referring to ASEAN's non-interference principle.

On Wednesday, Malaysia underlined the reasons for its criticism, saying that it is concerned that if the crisis in northern Rakhine is not urgently addressed it will impact the security and stability of the region, including Malaysia.

"The exodus of more refugees to neighboring countries, including Malaysia, would witness a repeat of the 2015 boat people crisis," it said, adding that its push for a regional meeting led to a resolution of the crisis and saved innocent lives.

The outcome of the meeting saw Malaysia and Indonesia agree to provide humanitarian assistance and temporary shelter for around 7,000 boat people -- Rohingya and Bangladeshis -- stranded along the countries' maritime borders while awaiting resettlement or repatriation.

"That is why Malaysia views the current situation in the northern Rakhine State as no longer an ‘internal affair’ but one of regional consequence,” it stated.

"ASEAN Member States as a community of nations has a responsibility to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples in accordance with the ASEAN Charter and the Charter of the United Nations, as well as the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

"It is in this context that Malaysia, as an ASEAN Member State, is taking a strong position on the issue. Malaysia needs to speak out on issues regarding gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as it is the right thing to do."

Suu Kyi -- also Myanmar's foreign minister -- has now invited regional foreign ministers from Southeast Asian nations for talks in the country’s largest city Yangon on Dec. 19. to discuss the situation in northern Rakhine.

On Thursday, Malaysia said that with regard to the claim that its recent actions were “un-ASEAN-like” and may jeopardize any further possibility of it playing a credible role towards a long-term solution in Rakhine, it saw its vocal position on the issue as directly leading to the meeting.

"Myanmar’s willingness to address the criticism head-on is a change of tact for the country, as was the change in Malaysia's tone in dealing with Myanmar," it stated.

"We welcome this positive development and... Anifah Aman [Malaysia's foreign minister] is prepared to discuss with his Myanmar counterpart, Aung San Suu Kyi on how Malaysia can assist Myanmar in finding a just, expeditious and durable solution to the protracted issue in the northern Rakhine State."

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