A conflict in Myanmar's violence-wracked Rakhine state has created a rift between the Philippines and Malaysia over how Asean should address the unfolding crisis.
Malaysia has disavowed a statement released by the Philippines, as Asean chair, saying it "misrepresented the reality of the situation" of ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday that Manila held "deep respect" for Kuala Lumpur's dissent, but the Philippines "also has to respect and take into account the sentiments of the other members" of Asean.
"The Philippines, as chair, tolerates the public manifestation of dissenting voices," the ministry said. "This demonstrates a new level of maturity on how we implement Asean's consensus principle when confronted with issues affecting national interests."
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano on Sunday issued a statement that expressed concerns among Asean's ministers over violence that began on Aug 25 when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about 12 people.
The ministers condemned the attacks against Myanmar's security forces, as well as "all acts of violence which resulted in loss of civilian lives, destruction of homes and displacement of large numbers of people".
Senior diplomats and foreign ministers of Asean discussed the statement on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last Saturday. But no consensus was reached, two Malaysian government officials told Reuters.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry said Malaysia's objection was the reason why the ministers decided to issue a chairman's statement "that would reflect the general sentiments of the other foreign ministers", instead of a joint communique. Malaysia disassociated itself from the statement, insisting that it "was not based on consensus". Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said on Sunday that Myanmar must halt "atrocities which have unleashed a full-scale humanitarian crisis".
Malaysia also said the Asean chair's statement did not refer to the Rohingya as one of the affected communities. Myanmar objects to the term "Rohingya", saying the Muslims of the western state of Rakhine state are not a distinct ethnic group but illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Over 430,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in under a month, telling stories of Myanmar soldiers teaming up with vigilante mobs to kill civilians and burn entire villages to the ground. Around 30,000 Hindus and Buddhists based in the area have also been displaced.