A coalition of Muslim civil society groups in Myanmar has condemned protests led by Malaysia’s prime minister against the Southeast Asian nation’s treatment of the stateless Rohingya minority group, which has been subject to a recent security crackdown in Rakhine state.
The groups took Muslim-majority Malaysia’s ruling United Malays National Organsation (UMNO) party to task over a Dec. 4 rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur, expressing disapproval of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s participation in the protest for what they called political purposes, said the open letter dated Dec. 5.
The groups sent the letter to the Malaysian embassy and submitted a copy to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information and Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.
“We feel that Najib did this for his political interest,” said Darli Myint a member of the civil society aid organization Social Alliance.
“According to the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] charter, a country can’t interfere in the internal affairs of another member state. What he did caused us concern about the broken unity of ASEAN. That’s why we released the statement.”
Some in Myanmar believe that Najib Razak is using the Rohingya issue to deflect corruption allegations surrounding his involvement in the taking billions of dollars of public money from a state investment fund.
“We find the rally led by Malaysian Prime Minister [Najib] was nothing but aiming at the political interest of Malaysia’s ruling party,” the letter said. “We affirm that the unfortunate situation facing Myanmar needs not, and should not, be exploited for self-interest and political purposes.”
Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh staged demonstrations last week to protest State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to stop what they call “genocide” of the Rohingya who are at the center of the latest crackdown in the northern part of Rakhine State.
Security forces that swept into the area after a deadly raid on three border guard states on Oct. 9 have been accused of killing and raping Rohingya Muslims and burning down their homes as they searched for the attackers. The violence, which the armed forces have denied participating in, left nearly 90 dead and forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
The Myanmar Muslim groups also said they disapproved of Najib’s linking of the situation to a religious cause.
“We hereby assert that the Muslim community in Myanmar do not take it as a religious persecution, but a controversial ethnic issue,” the letter said.
Myanmar views the 1.1 million Rohingya, most of whom live in Rakhine state, as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have lived there for generations. They are denied citizenship and access to jobs, health care, and education. More than 120,000 Rohingya are currently living in refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.
The letter went on to say that the Myanmar government has taken steps to address the issue, including the appointment of former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to lead a Rakhine Advisory Commission to examine conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, and development issues in the divided and impoverished state.
President Htin Kyaw on Nov. 3 formed an investigative commission to examine the situation that led to the border guard station attacks and subsequent violence, as well as to verify allegations of rights abuses during security operations.
On Tuesday, Annan told a press conference in the commercial capital Yangon that he and the other members of the Rakhine Advisory Commission remain “deeply concerned about reports of alleged human rights abuses.”
Annan also cautioned that the use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Rakhine is a serious charge that requires legal review and not something that can be “thrown around loosely.”
“We stressed in all our meetings that wherever security operations might be necessary, civilians must be protected at all times, and I urge the security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law,” Annan wrote in a post on the website of the Kofi Annan Foundation.
“We also stressed that security operations must not impede humanitarian access to the population,” he said. “We have been given the assurance that humanitarian assistance is allowed access and trust that all communities in need will receive the assistance they require.”
Annan also said he met with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday to discuss reconciliation among Rakhine communities, citizen verification, freedom of movement, and the economic and social development of Rakhine.
During her meeting with the commission in the capital Naypyidaw, Aung San Suu Kyi appealed to the international community to give Myanmar time to resolve the problems in Rakhine, according to an announcement by the State Counselor’s Office.
Border Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ye Aung and Immigration Minister Thein Swe also attended the meeting.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.