Malaysia says it is not being 'un-Asean-like' by protesting human rights violations in Rakhine

Myanmar ethnic Rohingya Muslims react during a protest condemning Myanmar's government violence on Rohingya people in Rakhine State, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec 4, 2016.
Myanmar ethnic Rohingya Muslims react during a protest condemning Myanmar's government violence on Rohingya people in Rakhine State, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec 4, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

KUALA LUMPER - Malaysia on Thursday (Dec 15) dismissed claims that it is being "un-Asean-like" by speaking out on human rights violations in Myanmar's Rakhine state, saying the issue is no longer a domestic affair but one of regional concern.

"Malaysia is concerned that if the crisis in northern Rakhine State is not addressed urgently by the Myanmar Government, it will impact the security and stability of the region, including Malaysia. The exodus of more refugees to neighbouring countries, including Malaysia, would witness a repeat of the 2015 boat people crisis,'' Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

"In fact, during the 2015 boat people crisis, Malaysia played an instrumental role by swiftly convening a tripartite meeting with Indonesia and Thailand which was held at Wisma Putra and led by Malaysia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, YB Dato' Sri Anifah Haji Aman, in May 2015 to discuss and resolve the issue.

"The outcome of the meeting saw Malaysia and Indonesia agree to provide humanitarian assistance and temporary shelter to the 7000 boat people stranded along the three countries' maritime borders while awaiting resettlement or repatriation. Malaysia's leading role in this instance led to a resolution of the crisis and saved innocent lives,'' said the ministry.

This is why "Malaysia views the current situation in Rakhine State as no longer an internal affair but one of regional consequence," it added.

The ministry issued the statement in response to an article in Free Malaysia Today on Monday titled "Myanmar's Snub to Malaysia's Megaphone Diplomacy", which said Malaysia lost much diplomatic clout and regional respect after its leaders, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, participated in a rally on Dec 4 protesting the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

At the closing session of the recent Umno assembly, Mr Najib had slammed Myanmar's treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority, saying there was no way Malaysia could keep quiet when there were people being burnt alive and women being raped. He insisted that Malaysia was not meddling in Myanmar's internal affairs but "defending humanitarian and universal values".

In its statement on Thursday, the ministry said "it is due to Malaysia's vocal position on the issue that Myanmar will host an Asean Foreign Ministers' Retreat on Dec 19 2016 to discuss the situation in the northern Rakhine State."

"Myanmar's willingness to address the criticism head-on is a change of tact for the country, as was the change in Malaysia's tone in dealing with Myanmar. We welcome this positive development and YB Dato' Sri Anifah Aman is prepared to discuss with his Myanmar counterpart, Aung San Suu Kyi , on how Malaysia can assist Myanmar in finding a just, expeditious and durable solution to the protracted issue in the northern Rakhine State."

More than 20,000 Rohingya Muslims have flooded into Bangladesh over the past two months, fleeing a military campaign in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Reuters reported.

Their stories of mass rape and murder at the hands of security forces have galvanised protests in Muslim nations around the region, with Buddhist-majority Myanmar facing diplomatic pressure from its neighbours.