Myanmar to brief ASEAN amid alarm over Rakhine

December 12, 2016 1:55 am JST

Myanmar to brief ASEAN amid alarm over Rakhine

Aung San Suu Kyi responds to regional concern over Rakhine with unprecedented call for ASEAN meeting.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, Contributing writer

Bangladeshi border guards patrol the banks of the Naf River near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to prevent Rohingya refugees crossing from Myanmar on Nov. 22. © AP

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s de facto leader, State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for a special informal meeting with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Dec. 19 in Yangon to discuss international concerns over the situation in Rakhine state.

It is the first time that Myanmar has initiated a meeting with other countries to discuss the sensitive issue of its treatment of the Muslim population. ASEAN officials saw the move as a sign of concern within Suu Kyi’s fledgling administration of mounting international criticism over the recent crackdown on the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

Many governments and humanitarian organizations have expressed alarm at the harsh military response following attacks on Oct. 9 by Muslim militants on police posts along the country’s western border between Rakhine State and Bangladesh.

Myanmar conveyed its decision to call a meeting during an informal gathering of senior ASEAN officials in Bali over the weekend. Originally, the Indonesian foreign ministry had planned at the Bali meeting to discuss the outlook for ASEAN in the changing global environment, particularly in light of policy challenges under the incoming Trump administration.

However, reports of the deteriorating security situation in Rakhine, including the exodus of an estimated 20,000-plus Rohingya refugees from Rakhine to Bangladesh in the weeks after the Oct. 9 attacks, figured prominently in some discussions at the Bali meeting. Reports last week of military abuses as well as refugee flows from Rakhine attracted blistering criticism from Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak of Suu Kyi and her National League of Democracy-led government.

Regional concerns

Among ASEAN countries, Malaysia as well as Indonesia – both with predominantly Muslim populations — have registered particular concern about the plight of Myanmar’s mainly stateless Rohingya Muslims.

On Dec. 6, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi flew to Naypyitaw at Suu Kyi’s invitation to meet with her counterpart and convey Indonesia’s strong concern about the situation in Rakhine State.

A senior ASEAN official said that Retno and Suu Kyi “openly discussed” the latest developments in Rakhine State, and that the Indonesian minister had emphasized the importance of restoring peace and stability to enable the implementation of inclusive development initiatives. Retno also urged Myanmar to facilitate flows of humanitarian aid to Muslim communities in Rakhine State, after the suspension of all food and medical aid in the weeks following the attacks.

During the Bali meeting, Myanmar’s representative Myint Thu, director of the foreign ministry’s ASEAN department, announced that Myanmar would call for a special retreat so that Suu Kyi could personally brief her fellow ASEAN ministers on the situation in Rakhine State. The meeting would take place in Yangon under the current Lao chairmanship of ASEAN, he noted.

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By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia ( MERHROM) Posted in Uncategorized

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