IN ITS EDITORIAL ON JAN 3, THE PAPER CALLS FOR FAR MORE INTERNATIONAL RESOLVE TO ADDRESS THE ROHINGYA CRISIS IN MYANMAR
While it is encouraging that influential organisations and individuals have held meetings on the Rohingya crisis and that hundreds of thousands of people are voicing grave concern, the plight of the Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar will not improve unless the international community takes decisive action.
The recent “informal consultation” that the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, granted foreign ministers of the Asean produced a single half-hearted resolution to help ease the problem.
The meagre result suggests the meeting was nothing more than another face-saving escape on the bloc’s part amid mounting global pressure.
What the group decided with Suu Kyi was that humanitarian assistance will be given to the Rohingya in troubled Rakhine state.
Last week Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, dispatched 10 shipping containers filled with instant-food products, infant formula and clothing after its foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, met separately with Suu Kyi and his counterpart from neighbouring Bangladesh, Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali.
The two ministers also visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, home to two Rohingya refugee camps.
As admirable as those worried countries’ efforts are, the root cause of the problem is still being ignored, and it lies squarely at the feet of the Suu Kyi administration.
The reason there are 300,000 Rohingya sheltering in makeshift camps along the Bangladeshi border – between 27,000 and 50,000 sought to cross the frontier in October alone, the figure varying among sources – is that the Myanmar military has been murdering, raping and robbing them and burning their communities to the ground.
News reporters, rights organisations and United Nations officials have documented the atrocities.
It’s been suggested that this continuing assault might amount to ethnic cleansing, though we fail to see why there should be any doubt when a specific population is being targeted on such a scale.
There are of course complications stymieing the best intentions.
Suu Kyi’s government has maintained the rigid attitude of its dictatorial predecessors in insisting that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi refuses to even acknowledge the term “Rohingya”, adamant that they are “Bengalis”. Bangladesh counters that they are not its citizens but refugees from Myanmar whom it wants repatriated.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last year invited Suu Kyi to visit for further discussion.
She has yet to do so, and nor has Myanmar responded to Bangladesh’s proposal for a joint border control, an idea that would hardly solve the problem but would at least show her willingness to accept aid in addressing it.
Add to these factors Suu Kyi’s seeming inability to rein in the military and the military’s defence of its brutalisation of Rakhine as a response to Rohingya armed attacks on state officials.
Clearly far more urgent international resolve is needed to end a crisis that 23 prominent world figures – including many of Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel Prize laureates – last month called “a human tragedy”.
“If we fail to take action,” their letter to the UN warned, “people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets, and we may end up being the passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly and say ‘never again’ all over again.”
Suu Kyi yielded somewhat to foreign pressure last year when she appointed one of those laureates, former UN secretary-general Kofi Anan, to head a commission on the Rohingya affair.
Anan visited Rakhine twice and offered recommendations aimed at easing the tension between the Muslim minority and Buddhist majority that has several times flared into violence.
No concerted effort was made, and nothing has changed. All we have is talk.
THE NATION IS A MEMBER OF THE STRAITS TIMES MEDIA PARTNER ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AN ALLIANCE OF 22 NEWS MEDIA ENTITIES.