Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday 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.
Addressing the closing session of the Umno assembly, he insisted that Malaysia was not meddling in Myanmar's internal affairs but "defending humanitarian and universal values".
Datuk Seri Najib was speaking soon after Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted as saying that the international community should help her country maintain peace and stability instead of "always drumming up cause for bigger fires of resentment".
Mr Najib said the Rohingya community is facing "ethnic cleansing" in Rakhine state.
"People are being burnt alive, women are raped and children are chopped up alive. This is not an Asean behaviour that we can accept," he said to loud cheers from some 5,000 Umno delegates attending the assembly yesterday.
"We ask them to change their attitude and fix this situation," he added.
Mr Najib is attending a protest rally today to support the Rohingya at a stadium in Kuala Lumpur. He defended his decision to go to the protest, saying this was "Umno's stand", as shouts from the floor called on him to attend the rally.
The protest is expected to be attended by some 20,000 people, officials said, including those from Umno and the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) led by its president Abdul Hadi Awang.
Earlier yesterday, an official from the Myanmar President's office cautioned Malaysia that organising the rally would constitute breaking Asean's policy of non-interference.
Myanmar also said the planned rally by Mr Najib's Umno party is a political gimmick to garner Malay Muslim votes.
Mr Najib said Malaysia had to do something as it was directly affected by the crisis. Last year, scores of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar arrived at the Malacca Strait but were stranded in boats at sea, sparking a humanitarian crisis.
He said Malaysia has over 56,000 Rohingya and Myanmar refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, not accounting for the unknown thousands of undocumented Rohingya in the country.
"If this atrocity continues, of course, on a massive scale, there will be boat people," Mr Najib told reporters.
Myanmar's government does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, though some of them have lived in the country for several generations.
Using satellite imagery from Myanmar's western Rakhine state, rights group Human Rights Watch recently revealed mass destruction in ethnic Rohingya villages and called for an urgent United Nations investigation into alleged abuses.
Malaysia's national football team on Wednesday cancelled two friendly Under-22 matches with Myanmar, in protest against the treatment of the Rohingya.