Malaysia has accused Myanmar of engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of its Rohingya Muslim minority, as former UN chief Kofi Annan visits a burned-out village in violence-hit Rakhine state.
Tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled their homes since a bloody crackdown by the Myanmar army in Rakhine, sparked by a string of deadly attacks on police border posts in early October.
“The fact that only one particular ethnicity is being driven out is by definition ethnic cleansing,” Malaysia’s foreign ministry said in an unusually strongly-worded statement on Saturday.
Myanmar has balked at such criticism, saying the Rakhine crisis is an internal issue. However, international pressure on the country is mounting.
Malaysia’s statement noted that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries in recent years, including approximately 56,000 to Muslim-majority Malaysia.
That, the statement said, “makes this matter no longer an internal matter, but an international matter”.
On Saturday morning, a convoy carrying the former UN chief arrived outside the Rohingya village of Wapeik, which has seen significant damage from fire.
Annan is not expected to brief the media until Tuesday, after his visit to Rakhine ends.
Myanmar has restricted access to the northern part of the state and says its military is hunting down the perpetrators of the attacks.
However, rights groups and Rohingya refugees who have made it to Bangladesh have accused the military of killing civilians and razing entire villages as a form of collective punishment.
The Rohingya have long faced persecution and government restrictions on movement that has been likened to apartheid.
Much of Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though most of them have lived there for generations.
Before the latest violence broke out, Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi formed a commission tasked with trying to solve the Rakhine crisis, headed by Annan.
That task has been made considerably harder since fighting broke out.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has also been criticised for not defending the Rohingya.
Since winning a historic election last year, Aung San Suu Kyi has hardly spoken out on the issue.
However, during a trip to Singapore this week, she gave a rare interview in which she hit out at international criticism.
Her hands are somewhat tied by Myanmar’s notoriously abusive military.
Under the country’s military government-era constitution, the army still controls key ministries and has a parliamentary veto.