Pressure on Myanmar as region holds Rohingya talks
YANGONDec 20, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Dec 20, 2016 12:00 am
Myanmar faced growing pressure from its neighbors over claims its army has carried out a bloody campaign of abuse against its Rohingya minority as ministers held emergency talks on the crisis.
More than 27,000 people from the Muslim ethnic group have fled northwestern Myanmar for Bangladesh since early November to escape a heavy-handed military counterinsurgency campaign.
The army says it is hunting militants that were behind the deadly raids on police posts in October.
But Rohingya survivors have described rape, murder and arson at the hands of security forces - accounts that have raised global alarm and galvanized protests in capitals around Southeast Asia. The exodus has caused an unusual open spat within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the regional 10-member bloc that usually prides itself on consensus diplomacy and non-interference.
Foreign ministers met in Yangon yesterday for emergency talks on the crisis.
Malaysia called for an independent ASEAN-led investigation into the allegations and for complete humanitarian access to the locked-down area, where more than 130,000 people have been without aid for two months.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman warned the crackdown could trigger a repeat of last year's boat crisis, when thousands of starving Rohingya were abandoned at sea.
"We believe that the situation is now of a regional concern and should be resolved together," Aman said at the meeting according to a statement released by Kuala Lumpur.
"Myanmar must do more in trying to address the root causes of this problem," he added.
Almost all of Myanmar's Rohingya are denied citizenship and have lived for years under movement restrictions that many have likened to apartheid.
Thousands have fled over the years on rickety boats, seeking sanctuary in Muslim majority countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
The latest crackdown in Rakhine state has generated a fresh wave of public anger, particularly in Malaysia, where tens of thousands of Rohingya eke out tough lives as undocumented workers.
This month Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak accused Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi of allowing "genocide" on her watch - an unusually strong rebuke by one ASEAN state of another.
Myanmar, which has vehemently denied the allegations of abuse, responded by angrily summoning Malaysia's ambassador and banning its workers from going to the country.
Suu Kyi also held talks with the foreign minister of Indonesia this month after cancelling a visit following protests and an attempted attack on the Myanmar embassy.
Ong Keng Yong, a former secretary-general of ASEAN, said neighboring nations feared the Rohingya crisis could spiral.
"This kind of issue, if it's not well managed, will impact on the general picture of our peace and security in ASEAN," he told reporters.
Myanmar has also seen a cascade of criticism from outside the region over its handling of the Rohingya crisis, including from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
Last week, U.N. rights commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein criticized the government's "callous" handling of the crisis, describing it as "a lesson in how to make a bad situation worse."
In a new report released on Monday, Amnesty International said the army's "widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population" may amount to crimes against humanity.
The plight of the Rohingya, who rights groups say are among the world's most persecuted, has long been a flashpoint within Southeast Asia. In 2015 thousands of the stateless group were stranded at sea after authorities closed off a well-worn trafficking route through Thailand. The overcrowded boats were ping-ponged between countries reluctant to accept them until global pressure eventually spurred Indonesia and Malaysia to let them in.