Malaysia has called for an organisation of Islamic countries to help end the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, while Indonesia has offered to be a facilitator to find a solution to the ongoing crisis.
Prime Minister Najib Razak told the opening of a special meeting of foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that the violence against Rohingya, which has galvanised Muslims in Southeast Asia, was no longer Myanmar’s internal affair as it has fuelled an exodus of refugees that could destabilise the region.
He claimed that the violence must end otherwise armed groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, as know as ISIS) could infiltrate the Rohingya.
“OIC member states are well aware that terrorist organisations such as Daesh could seek to take advantage of this situation,” Najib said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Security forces in Buddhist-majority Myanmar are accused of widespread abuses against the Rohingya, including killings, rape and the burning of thousands of homes that have driven an estimated 65,000 refugees across the border into Bangladesh in the past three months.
Myanmar’s army began the latest crackdown in Rakhine state in October after nine policemen were killed along the border with Bangladesh.
The government and the army have rejected accusations of abuse, saying they have been conducting operations to clear the area of armed elements.
‘Rohingya Muslims cannot wait’
Najib urged Myanmar to stop all discrimination and attacks and repeated calls for the free delivery of aid and safe return of refugees.
“This must happen now … The government of Myanmar disputes the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing,’ but whatever the terminology, the Rohingya Muslims cannot wait,” he said.
Najib said Malaysia will donate another 10 million ringgit ($2.25 million) for humanitarian aid and social projects in Rakhine, where most of the Rohingya have lived for generations. They are denied Myanmar citizenship.
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.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on the sidelines of the meeting that Jakarta was “more than ready to play a bridging role” to help Myanmar and its Muslim minority.
Marsudi said she will be flying to Yangon on Friday to meet with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and plans to travel to Rakhine on Saturday.
OIC Secretary General Yousef Al Othaimeen said Myanmar must halt “ongoing discrimination and the unwarranted systematic abuse against the Rohingya.”
Rohingya villagers and activists say hundreds of civilians have been killed since October, although figures cannot be verified because authorities have limited access for aid workers and journalists. Recent satellite images showed thousands of houses were burned.
A small group of Rohingya gathered at the building where the OIC ministers were meeting and repeated calls for an independent investigation into their plight.