By P Prem Kumar
Malaysia’s foreign ministry said Saturday that it will express strong condemnation during an upcoming regional meeting organized by Myanmar to discuss recent violence in troubled Rakhine State.
Myanmar has invited foreign ministers from Southeast Asian nations for Dec. 19 talks in an effort to reduce regional concerns over a situation in northern Rakhine in which anything from 76 to 400 Rohingya Muslims have died.
A military crackdown in Rakhine that followed fatal Oct. 9 attacks on police stations has raised concerns among ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, especially in predominantly Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia.
On Saturday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said the gathering would be used as platform to express ASEAN member countries’ firm stance against any form of violence or discrimination against the Rohingya.
“This 19 December meeting will give me the opportunity to unequivocally state Malaysia’s strong position on this issue,” he said in a statement, stressing that Malaysia has consistently condemned the escalation of violence in northern Rakhine since Oct. 9.
“The loss of innocent lives and the displacement of people is unacceptable, and Malaysia will further call on all parties involved to refrain from taking any actions that would aggravate the situation further,” the minister underlined.
Myanmar has said that at least 93 people — 17 police and soldiers and 76 alleged “attackers” (including six who reportedly died during interrogation) — were killed and some 575 suspects detained in the Oct. 9 attacks and a subsequent military crackdown.
Rohingya advocacy groups, however, claim around 400 Rohingya — described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted groups worldwide — were killed in the military operations, women were raped and Rohingya villages torched.
Malaysia has heavily criticized Myanmar’s government and military over the violence, with Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cabinet referring to it as “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing”.
After Malaysia’s government organized a Razak-led protest against the violence, Myanmar accused Malaysia of meddling in its internal affairs.
On Dec. 8, the deputy director general at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted to Anadolu Agency that a pledge by Indonesia’s foreign minister, Rento Marsudi, to help Myanmar resolve all conflicts between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine was both “positive and constructive”.
“Unlike Malaysia, Indonesia shows respect to Myanmar and regional principles,” Aye Aye Soe said by phone, referring to ASEAN’s non-interference principle.
Aman underlined Saturday that Malaysia’s position to assist Myanmar in finding a “just, expeditious and durable” solution to the protracted conflict in Rakhine.
He said Malaysia is “fully cognizant” of ASEAN’s non-interference principle, but also upholds that ASEAN member states are bound by international principles on human rights.