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Foreign intervention needed in Myanmar

(Photo: AP)

February 14, 2017

Asean and the UN should shun Hun Sen’s hands-off advice and act to help the Rohingya

The suggestion by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that the ongoing crisis being suffered by the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar be left to that country’s government and regarded as purely an internal affair is likely to fall on deaf ears. So it should. Hopefully Cambodia and Myanmar’s other partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will display greater compassion and care than Hun Sen is offering.

Hun Sen is right only in the sense that Myanmar will have to make the final call on the means to address this grievous problem. But international pressure is clearly needed to compel it towards fair resolution of the issue, just as foreign influence resulted in the 1991 Paris Accord that finally ended Cambodia’s own drawn-out horror. Consider that Hun Sen would not be in his position today had Vietnam not intervened to rid his country of the brutal Khmer Rouge, halting genocide. 

The murderous mistreatment of the Rohingya might be a different kind of situation, but it too is having an impact beyond national borders, and thus the need for international involvement apart from humanitarian concerns. And only when the matter is resolved can Myanmar continue its peaceful progress towards democracy, which is also in the world’s interest.

Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other nations have been obliged on moral grounds to take in thousands of refugees fleeing the bloodletting in their home state of Rakhine. Clearly the government of Myanmar requires outside prodding to end the brutality. Since the conflict stems in large part from widespread prejudice against the Rohingya, it is a political issue, and the government has been shockingly slow to act.

As Muslims in a predominantly Buddhist population, the million-plus Rohingya in Rakhine have been scapegoats for the uncertainty and anxiety arising from Myanmar’s sudden “opening” to the world. When a handful of Rohingya men were accused in 2012 of raping a Buddhist, it was the spark needed to ignite deep-seated xenophobia, and this already repressed minority was an easy target. 

In the eyes of officialdom, the Rohingya will always be outsiders, even though they’ve lived in the country for many generations. They are denied citizenship, their travel is curtailed and they have long been the victims of sporadic bouts of suppression that have extended to torture, rape and murder. The latest round of army-led violence has been characterised as a form of ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Just last week the United Nations was told the death toll now tops 1,000. Two separate UN agencies working in Bangladesh estimated that nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled in recent months and expressed concern that global understanding of the severity of the crisis is still lacking.

The most that Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has offered thus far is a pledge to investigate rights abuses. The official line in Nay Pyi Taw appears to be that the Rohingya have engaged in unlawful activities and their rights have not been violated. If an investigation does proceed, it’s difficult to believe it would be transparent, since both the military and the police would be involved, and they are the accused perpetrators of the abuses. The military remains politically powerful and its core mission is containing insurrection among ethnic minorities. 

There needs to be an enforced peace in Rakhine and then an open investigation of the atrocities – not by local authorities but by the international community. The United Nations and Asean should be prepared as needed to examine the claims and the evidence and work out a resolution. To not intervene, as Hun Sen suggests, would be aiding and abetting a crime against humanity.

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