Malaysia is facing a backlash from Myanmar’s government following Prime Minister Najib Razak’s appearance at a weekend rally in Kuala Lumpur during which he condemned violence against Rohingya Muslims as “genocide.”
Myanmar President U. Htin Kyaw and Commander-in-Chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing confronted the visiting chief of Malaysia’s armed forces on the issue during a meeting on Monday at the Presidential Palace in Nay Pyi Taw, their offices said in statements issued Tuesday.
“Hlaing told his Malaysian counterpart that no human rights violations had taken place against Muslim Rohingya,”the Myanmar Times said in quoting from Hlaing’s statement.
During his meeting with Malaysian military chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, the Myanmar president discussed concerns over “false news” about violence in Maungtaw, a township in western Rakhine state where the Rohingya minority is concentrated, according to Htin Kyaw’s statement.
“The president clarified the efforts of the new government in handling the Rakhine state issue in accordance with the existing laws and human rights standards and norms and measures being taken by the Rakhine State Advisory Commission and investigation commission,” the statement said.
Zulkifeli’s visit was not to discuss the Rohingya issue but part of a travel program in the region prior to his retirement on Dec. 16, a Malaysian Defense Ministry official told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
In a message posted Tuesday night on Twitter, Najib said the rally to show solidarity for the plight of the Rohingya drew the attention of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and Malaysia was working with the Muslim world body to organize a meeting of foreign ministers from member-states “to discuss the Rohingya issue.”
At Sunday’s rally, the Malaysian prime minister criticized Myanmar for citing the non-interference clause in the charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which prevents members of the regional bloc from meddling in the domestic affairs of other member-states.
The rally occurred a day after Malaysia accused the Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing, and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visited a village in Rakhine where thousands of Rohingya had fled their homes.
Myanmar’s army has conducted security sweeps in the northern part of the state that borders Bangladesh, following deadly attacks on Burmese border-guard posts in early October, which authorities have blamed on Rohingya militants.
In the crackdown soldiers have been accused of committing extrajudicial killings, rape and arson in Rohingya communities. The military has denied committing any atrocities and has blamed the arson that has reportedly destroyed hundreds of homes on Rohingya.
The violence has caused thousands of Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh. On Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that thousands of Rohingya had crossed into southeastern Bangladesh to escape the violence in Rakhine.
“The inter-agency coordination team, consisting of U.N. agencies and international NGOs with a presence in the district, is constantly assessing the humanitarian situation and has identified about 22,000 new arrivals since late November,” IOM said in a statement.
“Many of the new arrivals are in a vulnerable state and it is a priority to us that they get access to the available services,” said the agency that has been coordinating humanitarian assistance to undocumented Myanmar nationals in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh since 2013.
Sunday’s rally saw Najib sitting on the same stage as Abdul Hadi Awang, president of the Pan-Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) – a traditional rival of Najib’s United Malay National Organization (UMNO) party.
On Monday, a coalition of Myanmar Muslim Civil Society Groups issued an open letter accusing Najib of exploiting the rally for his self-interest and political purposes.
“In such a time, we are dismayed by poorly informed initiatives like the rally in Malaysia, which could further worsen the already difficult situation and be considered as a threat to the unity and stability of the ASEAN community.
“We hereby reassert that the Muslim community in Myanmar does not take it as a religious persecution, but a controversial ethnic issue,” the statement said.
Apart from the backlash from Myanmar, Najib is facing criticism at home for his appearance at the rally.
Questioning Najib’s sincerity, members of opposition parties in Malaysia pointed to two motions, one in 2012 to condemn actions in Myanmar and another a week before the rally to discuss concerns over ethnic cleansing, being rejected by parliament.
“As early as November 2012, MP Nurul Izzah Anwar called for an emergency motion regarding the Rohingya issue. Parliament should have debated it then. Why was it rejected,” Malek Hussin, head of Parliamentary Affairs Office of the Opposition Leader told BenarNews.
On Nov. 24, a similar motion raised by opposition party National Trust Party was rejected by the speaker on the basis it would interfere with Myanmar’s sovereignty.
Reported by Hadi Azmi for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.