Tensions between Malaysia and fellow ASEAN states have deepened over the bloc’s handling of the Rohingya Muslim crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh, with Foreign Minister Anifah Aman rebuking ASEAN’s latest statement on the issue.
The minister issued an unusually sharp statement on Sunday night saying Malaysia disagreed with and was detaching itself from a separate statement sent out earlier in the day by the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano, who spoke on behalf of the 10 ASEAN foreign ministers.
Anifah let it be known that the Malaysian government was angry because the ASEAN statement made no mention of the word “Rohingya,” members of a stateless Muslim minority group who allegedly have been targeted in atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
During the past month, more than 400,000 Rohingya have crossed into southeastern Bangladesh as they fled the latest cycle of violence in Rakhine.
“Malaysia would like to dissociate itself with the chairman’s statement as we are of the view that it is a misrepresentation of the reality of the situation. In this regard, Malaysia has made known its concerns but they were not reflected in the chairman’s statement,” Anifah said.
“Hence, the chairman’s statement was not based on consensus. The statement also omits the Rohingyas as one of the affected communities,” Malaysia’s foreign minister added
He was referring to one of ASEAN’s founding principles stipulating that all collective statements be agreed to unanimously by its 10 members.
Myanmar’s military and local Buddhist militia in Rakhine have been blamed for targeting Rohingya civilians in atrocities such as killings and the burnings of hundreds of homes and villages belonging to the minority. Authorities in Myanmar, which is a member of ASEAN, have instead accused an insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), of fomenting violence in Rakhine.
The cycle of violence began on Aug. 25, when ARSA insurgents launched deadly attacks on Myanmar police outposts in Rakhine.
The word “Rohingya” is a controversial in Myanmar, whose government has refused to grant citizenship to members of this minority group. The Buddhist majority refers to Rohingya pejoratively as “Bengalis,” because of their physical similarities with people from neighboring Bangladesh and to imply they are undocumented immigrants.
In his statement, Anifah said Malaysia condemned the ARSA attacks on police, but that the “clearance operations” by Myanmar authorities were “disproportionate in that [these have] led to deaths of many innocent civilians and caused more than 400,000 Rohingyas to be displaced.”
He also called on Myanmar to end the violence in Rakhine and “stop destruction to lives and properties.”
‘Out of respect for its position’
On Monday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that the Philippines respected Malaysia’s stance on the Rakhine issue and its decision to disavow its participation in the wording that went into Cayetano’s official statement as the ASEAN chairman.
“ASEAN is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in the northern Rakhine State and since Malaysia has different views on some issues, out of respect for its position, we decided that instead of a foreign ministers statement, we would issue a chairman’s statement that would reflect the general sentiments of the other foreign ministers,” the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in its statement on Monday.
The ASEAN statement was issued after extensive consultations with Malaysia, the DFA added.
“The Philippines as chair tolerates the public manifestation of dissenting voices,” the department said. “This demonstrates a new level of maturity on how we implement ASEAN’s consensus principle when confronted with issues affecting national interests.”
The Philippines is this year’s holder of ASEAN’s chair, which rotates among its 10 members.
Anifah’s statement was the second this month criticizing ASEAN’s handling of the crisis in Rakhine state.
In early September, Anifah said the Malaysian government had lost confidence in the regional bloc over its response to the Rakhine issue.
“Malaysia has voiced concern to Myanmar and other ASEAN countries in meetings and they have pledging to solve the matter but the issue has not been addressed and what we see now is the violence against Rohingya Muslim has increased,” Anifah said after meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister in Putrajaya on Sept. 6.
“In my opinion, ASEAN is no longer able to address this issue. I am no longer hoping for the organization to solve the problem of Rohingya Muslims,” he added.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.