ASEAN, Australia leaders press Myanmar over Rohingya crisis

KONFRONTASI - Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been grilled by world leaders over her inaction regarding the persecution of the minority Rohingya Muslims in her country.

Suu Kyi has been under intense global criticism for her public rejection of a brutal military crackdown that has forced nearly 700,000 of the Muslim-minority Rohingya to flee Myanmar’s Rakhine State for Bangladesh since August last year.

That campaign of state-sponsored violence originally began in late 2016.

Suu Kyi, who arrived in the Australian city of Sydney on Saturday to take part in a three-day special meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was ostracized by other ASEAN members for her brazen denial of atrocities against the minority Rohingya community in Myanmar, which the United Nations says bears the “hallmarks of genocide.

The Rohingya crisis has sparked rare tensions within the bloc, with members demanding outside intervention to end the crisis.

The ASEAN members, namely, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, who used to take pride in the existing political harmony in the group, have been at loggerheads with Myanmar over the mishandling of the Rohingya crisis.

Malaysia and Bangladesh, who have borne the brunt of the problems resulting from the Rohingya’s displacement, have been most vocal in their criticism of Myanmar. The two Muslim-majority countries have taken a pincer approach against their Buddhist-dominant neighbor, exerting increased pressure to end the crisis.

‘No longer a domestic issue’

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak insisted to his Southeast Asian neighbors that the Rohingya crisis was no longer a domestic issue.

“Because of the suffering of Rohingya people and that of displacement around the region, the situation in [Myanmar’s] Rakhine State and Myanmar can no longer be considered to be a purely domestic matter,” he said.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak are seen at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney, on March 17, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

“In addition, the problem should not be looked at through the humanitarian prism only, because it has the potential of developing into a serious security threat to the region,” Razak added.

He said it was high time the international community made a joint effort to resolve the crisis.

“We discussed the situation in Rakhine State at considerable length today,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the closing press conference on Sunday. “It’s certainly an issue that has been discussed and it is fair to say... very constructively, in our meeting.”

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is this year’s ASEAN chair, acknowledged the region’s concerns about the ongoing plight of the Rohingya.

He hinted that an international body bigger than ASEAN — possibly the UN Security Council — was needed to achieve a forceful solution to the Rohingya crisis.

“It is of concern for all ASEAN countries, and yet ASEAN is not able to intervene and to force an outcome,” Lee said.

Both Turnbull  and Lee said that they would back efforts to reach a long-term solution to end the crisis and that they supported humanitarian efforts to help those displaced.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Canberra, Australia, on March 18, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Suu Kyi has not commented publicly since arriving in Australia on Saturday for the summit, but is scheduled to take questions at a Tuesday media event.

Myanmar’s military, with support from the government and Buddhist mobs, has launched a deadly crackdown against Rohingya Muslims residing in the western state of Rakhine.

Only in its first month of the clampdown, which has been described by UN experts and prominent rights group as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide,” some 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed, including more than 700 children, according to Doctors without Borders.[ptv]