The crisis in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state and allegations about human rights abuses of ethnic Rohingya Muslims by security forces there have evolved into a diplomatic tit-for-tat between the Southeast Asian country and Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak participated in a rally on Dec. 4 in the capital Kuala Lumpur during which he condemned violence against Rohingya Muslims as “genocide” and urged other Asian nations to increase pressure on Myanmar to stop the violence.
The move prompted Myanmar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin to summon Malaysian Ambassador Haniff Bin Abd Rahman to express dismay over Najib’s remarks against the government and reject accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
“The Minister of State also stressed the need for the international community to assist Myanmar in its efforts to maintain peace, stability, and security of the people and to make progress in building better relations between the two communities, instead of making calls based on unverified allegations that will only cause bigger problems than solutions,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign affairs on Wednesday.
The statement went on to note the Myanmar government’s appointment of the Rakhine Advisory Commission led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan and a national-level Investigation Commission to examine the situation in Rakhine.
Ethnic Rohingya in Muslim-majority nations in Asia, including Malaysia, have staged protests against a crackdown on Myanmar’s Rohingya community in the northwestern part of Rakhine by military and border police.
The forces, which have been conducting a security sweep following deadly attacks on border guard stations on Oct. 9, are accused of committing human rights abuses of the Rohingya who live there.
At least 86 people have been killed and about 30,000 displaced in the army crackdown in Rakhine state. More than 20,000 Rohingya have fled the area to neighboring Bangladesh where they have accused Myanmar soldiers of killing civilians, raping women and girls, and burning down their homes.
Meanwhile, an editorial in the government-run Myanmar newspaper The Mirror on Wednesday criticized Najib and the Nov. 4 rally for “black journalism”—using religious emotion and unreliable information to take advantage of the situation for political purposes.
Some in Myanmar believe that Najib Razak is using the Rohingya issue to deflect corruption allegations surrounding his involvement in taking billions of dollars of public money from a state investment fund.
The editorial urges people to condemn the rally for its use of what it called incorrect information about the situation in Rakhine.
No more workers
In a related development, the Myanmar government on Wednesday said it had temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia.
“Myanmar has temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia from Dec. 6, 2016, because of the current situation in Malaysia,” it said in a statement with no further elaboration, but apparently in response to the two countries’ falling out over the ongoing military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.
“We did it because we want to protect our citizens who want to work in Malaysia,” said Myo Aung, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Labor and Immigration.
The government has arranged to send 500-700 laborers every week to work in Malaysia, and there are now more than 200,000 Myanmar citizens workers who work legally in the country, he said
On Wednesday, officials from Malaysia’s Ministry of Human Resources declined to comment to BenarNews, an online news organization affiliated with Radio Free Asia, about Myanmar’s announcement on migrant workers.
However, Datak Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Malaysia’s deputy minister of home affairs and internal security, told Malaysia’s The Sun Daily newspaper that the nation would continue to accept Myanmar nationals who want to work there, and that there was no agreement between the two countries regarding the workforce supply.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.