MALAYSIA has disassociated itself from a statement by Asean over the weekend regarding the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, Burma (Myanmar), calling it a “misrepresentation of the reality of the situation.”
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman released a statement on Sunday in which he said that “Malaysia has made known its concerns but they were not reflected in the Chairman’s Statement” which was thus “not based on consensus.”
The Asean Chairman – Philippine Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano – had earlier released a statement on the Rohingya crisis in which it did not explicitly criticise Burma’s Tatmadaw military.
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More than 430,000 mostly Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh since Aug 25 when members of the Rohingya militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on the outposts of Burmese security forces, sparking a violent backlash from the Tatmadaw.
While the United Nations has said the crisis appears to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, the Asean Chairman said the situation was “a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots.”
Asean was “prepared to support the Myanmar government in its efforts to bring peace, stability, rule of law and to promote harmony and reconciliation between various communities,” Cayetano said.
The statement was the result of closed-door meetings of the foreign ministers of the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly sitting in New York.
“While Malaysia condemns the attacks [by ARSA] … the subsequent ‘clearance operations’ efforts by Myanmar authorities was disproportionate in that it has led to deaths of many innocent civilians,” said Anifah’s statement.
Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week gave an address in which she claimed that no violence had occurred in Rakhine State since Sep 5 – a claim refuted by human rights groups and the reports of journalists on the ground in Bangladesh.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said that satellite imagery and accounts from the displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh evidence widespread looting and burning of villages across the Rakhine by security forces and Buddhist vigilante groups.
Reuters reported on Sunday that doctors treating Rohingya in Bangladesh had found evidence consistent with violent sexual attacks.
“We strongly urge the Government of Myanmar to end the violence, stop the destruction to lives and properties, allow immediate unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas and all affected communities, and to resolve the Rohingya refugee problem,” added Anifah.
Chairman of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) Charles Santiago, who is a Malaysian opposition lawmaker, said Anifah’s “breaking ranks” with the Chairman’s statement was a “bold stand” and “commendable.”
“We certainly take pride in the continuous efforts by the Malaysian government to highlight the massacre of the Rohingya people through targeted persecution the Burmese military,” he said.
Santiago added that Malaysia’s decision to not turn away Rohingya Muslims fleeing the crisis by boat was “heart-warming.”
The country’s coastguard has said that while it is supposed to provide asylum seeker boats basic necessities and “push them away”, due to the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine it will not do so.
Along with Indonesia, Muslim-majority Malaysia has long expressed its solidarity with the Rohingya community, including sending an “aid flotilla” to supply 1,472 tons of food and non-food items to some 15,000 Rohingya families in February.
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The country itself is home to some 132,100 asylum seekers and refugees from Burma – 61,000 of whom are Rohingya.
Malaysia is not, however, a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention and thus refugees are considered illegal immigrants without legal rights to employment or education.
Rohingya refugees and Malaysian Muslims earlier this month demonstrated in protest against violence in the Rakhine in Kuala Lumpur, some calling for Burmese nationals to be expelled from the country unless violence against the Rohingya ceased.