KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's prime minister yesterday urged Myanmar to end its crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority, warning that Islamist extremists may exploit the crisis.
Since October, Myanmar's army has carried out "clearance operations" in the north of western Rakhine state to root out insurgents accused of deadly raids on police border posts.
At least 66,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, alleging rape, murder and torture at the hands of security forces. But Myanmar denies the accusations.
"Far too many people have lost their lives in Myanmar," said Prime Minister Najib Razak, speaking at the opening of a special meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
PERSECUTION MUST STOP
Many have suffered appalling deaths, and those who have lived through the atrocities have witnessed or endured unspeakable cruelty. For a start, the killing must stop. The violation of women and girls must stop.
PREMIER NAJIB RAZAK, on the Myanmar army's operations in Rakhine state.
"Many have suffered appalling deaths, and those who have lived through the atrocities have witnessed or endured unspeakable cruelty," he said. "For a start, the killing must stop. The violation of women and girls must stop."
He added that "the persecution of your fellow men and women simply on the grounds that they are Muslim must stop".
The plight of the Rohingya, a stateless group denied citizenship in Myanmar and reviled as illegal immigrants by the majority Buddhist population, has become a lightning rod for anger across the Muslim world.
Datuk Seri Najib has called the crisis a "genocide" and has prominently defended the Rohingya.
"OIC member states are well aware that terrorist organisations such as Daesh (another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) could seek to take advantage of this situation," he said.
"This should concern the international community as a whole as the threat of a new home for terrorist groups has the potential to cause death and destruction well beyond this region."
Mr Najib added that Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya - tens of thousands of whom have languished in displacement camps since communal riots in 2012 - was a "stain" on the 10-member Southeast Asian regional bloc Asean.
The plight of the Rohingya has put Myanmar's democracy champion and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi under immense international pressure. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is accused of standing by while the Rohingya have been persecuted.
She has appointed a commission to probe the latest violence and has urged the international community to give Myanmar time to heal a bitter and complicated issue. Myanmar refuses to recognises Rohingya as an official ethnic group.
The secretary-general of the 56-member OIC, Mr Yousef Al-Othaimeen, urged Myanmar security forces to use restraint with civilian populations or risk fuelling a violent reaction from oppressed groups.