Myanmar ‘rejects talks’ on ethnic violence

ASEAN chief says offer turned down, even as tension between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims simmers in Rakhine state.

Myanmar has rejected an offer by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to open talks aimed at quelling deadly communal violence there, according to the regional bloc’s chief.

Surin Pitsuwan said on Tuesday he proposed setting up tripartite talks between ASEAN,  the UN and Myanmar’s government to prevent the violence from having a broader regional impact.

But he said Myanmar turned down the offer to discuss the bloodshed in the western Rakhine state that has led to about 180 deaths since June.

The bloodshed has pitted Buddhists against minority Rohingya Muslims.

“Myanmar believes it is their internal matter, but your internal matter could be ours the next day if you are not careful,” Surin, ASEAN’s secretary-general, said after delivering a speech at a forum in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Fresh fighting in Rakhine this month resulted in another 88 people being killed and added to the thousands of homes torched, with tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims now living in overcrowded camps.

Higher toll feared

Rights groups fear the actual number killed could be much higher.

“Around 100,000 people have been displaced since the fighting started back in June,” Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay reported from Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state.

Most of those displaced lost their homes when they were burned down in what they say is a deliberate attempt by the predominantly Buddhist government to drive them out of the country.

“There were security forces present before the latest violence started,” Muhamed Juhar, a Rohingya Muslim, told Al Jazeera.

“But when the fighting came to our town, there was no security. When they did arrive, it was too late and they also shot into the crowds of Muslims.”

In Sittwe Hospital, there was proof that someone had been using guns, but the injured told a different story about how the violence unfolded.

“We got into a fight with the Muslims when we were on our way to go fishing. They came out of their houses and attacked us with swords,” said Aung Than, a Buddhist suffering from a bullet to the head.

Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government, which has been praised by Western nations for a series of democratic reforms after decades of outright military rule, has imposed emergency rule in response to continued tension in the region.

And while Buddhists remain free to move about the state, the Rohingya are becoming increasingly restricted, our correspondent said.

Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority, are viewed as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh by the government and many Myanmar citizens.

The Rohingya have long been considered by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies