(Updates with Myanmar foreign ministry statement in para 13)
By Simon Lewis
YANGON Dec 19 Malaysia said on Monday the
plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar was a regional concern and
called for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
to coordinate humanitarian aid and investigate alleged
atrocities committed against them.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman was speaking at a
meeting of the 10-nation bloc in Yangon called by Myanmar leader
Aung San Suu Kyi after weeks of reports that the army has
killed, raped and arbitrarily arrested Rohingya civilians.
Myanmar has denied the accusations, saying many of the
reports are fabricated, and it insists the strife in Rakhine
State, where many Rohingya live, is an internal matter.
In addition to fending off diplomatic pressure over the
crisis, the Myanmar government has also invited a handpicked
media delegation to visit the affected region this week.
Anifah said events in Rakhine State were a matter of
regional security and stability, noting that about 56,000
Rohingya now live in Muslim-majority Malaysia having fled
previous unrest in Myanmar.
"We believe that the situation is now of a regional concern
and should be resolved together," Anifah told the meeting,
according to a transcript of his speech provided by the
Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Progress in improving the human rights of the Rohingya had
been "rather slow", he said, noting the stream of reports about
abuses being committed in Rakhine State.
Anifah, who appeared to leave the meeting early, also warned
that Islamic State militants "could be taking advantage of this
Malaysia's intervention in the Rakhine crisis marks a break
with ASEAN members' tradition of non-intervention in each
other's internal affairs.
The bloc is also strained by its relations with China, with
which several members are locked in maritime territorial
disputes in the South China Sea. ASEAN faces an uncertain
geopolitical outlook as Donald Trump prepares to become
president of the United States in January.
Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said "everybody was
happy" with Monday's meeting, which he described as primarily a
briefing by Myanmar on the situation in Rakhine State.
Retno Marsudi, foreign minister of Indonesia, which has the
world's biggest Muslim population, said Myanmar had agreed to
provide regular updates to ASEAN members and had pledged that
access for humanitarian assistance "will be open".
Suu Kyi "reiterated the government's serious commitment to
the resolution of the complex issue and the need for time and
space for the government's efforts to bear fruit," according to
a statement from Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"CAMPAIGN OF VIOLENCE"
The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has said
that militants with links to Islamists overseas were behind
attacks on security posts near Myanmar's border with Bangladesh,
in the north of Rakhine State, on Oct. 9.
Myanmar troops have poured into the Muslim-majority area
since the attacks that killed nine police officers.
At least 86 people have died and an estimated 27,000
Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Oct. 9.
Refugees, residents and human rights groups say Myanmar
soldiers have committed summary executions, raped Rohingya women
and burned homes.
The majority of the population in northern Rakhine State are
Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship in Myanmar, where
they are considered illegal immigrants from neighbouring
Independent media and observers have been denied access to
northern Rakhine State. Some Rohingya communities have also been
off-limits to aid agencies on security grounds for more than two
months, raising fears about the welfare of a population that was
already experiencing high rates of malnutrition.
A group of journalists chosen by the Ministry of Information
to represent domestic and international media was set to visit
Maungdaw, the main site of the conflict, on Monday.
Officials did not invite most media organisations that have
reported on the alleged abuses, including Reuters.
Efforts to rebut accusations of army abuses were undermined
by the release of a lengthy report from Amnesty International on
Monday, accusing Myanmar of "a campaign of violence against
Rohingya people that may amount to crimes against humanity".
The rights group cited satellite images and testimony from
Rohingya in Rakhine State and Bangladesh. Among myriad abuses,
it alleged large-scale "enforced disappearances" of village
elders and religious leaders in Maungdaw.
"While the military is directly responsible for the
violations, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to live up to both her
political and moral responsibility to try to stop and condemn
what is unfolding in Rakhine State," Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty
International's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific,
said in a statement.
(With reporting by Shwe Yee Saw Myint and Aye Win Myint;
Editing by John Chalmers, Robert Birsel and Himani Sarkar)