The Malaysian government has called for a review of Myanmar’s membership in Southeast Asia’s main regional organization over the “large-scale ethnic cleansing” of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority group, in the latest instance of international criticism heaped on the country.
Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s minister for youth and sports and a lawmaker, demanded that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) review Myanmar’s membership, though the organization’s 10 member states have agreed not to meddle in each other’s internal affairs.
“The principle of noninterference is void when there is large-scale ethnic cleansing in an ASEAN member state,” he told attendees at an annual meeting of the ruling United Malays National Organization party on Wednesday.
Myanmar’s army has conducted security sweeps of the northern part of Rakhine state following deadly attacks on border guard posts in October, which they have blamed on Rohingya militants.
The soldiers, however, have cracked down on civilians and been accused of committing extrajudicial killings, rape, and arson in Rohingya communities. The military has denied committing any atrocities and has blamed the arson on the Rohingya.
The violence has forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee the area and try to cross into neighboring Bangladesh. The U.N. estimates that 10,000 more could arrive in the coming weeks as Bangladeshi border guards attempt to keep them out.
A United Nations official earlier this week stoked international criticism of the crisis when he said the government was engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, who are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Crimes against humanity?
On Tuesday, the U.N.’s rights agency said Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims may be victims of crimes against humanity, as former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan arrived in the country for a visit that includes a trip to northern Rakhine state.
Annan, who heads the government-appointed Rakhine Advisory Commission that is reviewing conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, development issues, and strengthening local institutions in the impoverished state, will visit Maungdaw township where the violence has occurred on Friday.
Annan and other commission members have offered to meet with representatives from ethnic Rakhine civil society organizations (CSOs), but the groups have declined, citing Annan’s use of the word “Rohingya” at a Sept. 8 press conference during a previous visit to the area. The country’s Buddhists refer to the Rohingya as “Bengalis” though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
“That’s why we decided not to see him,” said Than Tun, a CSO representative committee leader in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe.
The groups also said they unhappy that the commission has said it will work primarily on development in the impoverished state rather than on Rakhine ethnic and Muslims issues. They believe that the state is responsible for addressing development issues and that the commission is responsible for resolving the sectarian problem among Buddhists and Muslims.
Up in arms
Muslims in other Asian countries held protests this week against the Myanmar’s government’s treatment of the Rohingya in Rakhine state.
On Nov. 25, hundreds of Rohingya and Malaysians marched to Myanmar’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur, capital of the Muslim-majority nation, to protest against what they called the Rohingya genocide. The same day, the Malaysian government summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to convey its concerns about the matter.
Also on Nov. 25, members of Islamic groups marched in a rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to protest what they called the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
Prime Minister Najib Razak will participate in another demonstration against the violence in Rakhine on Dec. 4, Agence France-Presse reported.
News of the Sunday rally came as Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as Myanmar’s state counselor and foreign minister, arrived in Singapore on Wednesday for a three-day visit to drum up foreign investment for Myanmar. She did not address the situation in Rakhine but said she was working towards peace and national reconciliation in the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi was scheduled to visit Indonesia after Singapore, but postponed the trip following protests in the predominantly Muslim country over Myanmar’s crackdown on the Rohingya and the arrests of an Islamic State-linked militant for planning to bomb Myanmar’s embassy in the capital Jakarta.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.