KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia, the most outspoken of Myanmar’s neighbors over its treatment of its Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority, told a meeting of regional foreign ministers Monday of its “grave concern” over the violence allegedly carried out by Myanmar’s military.
In a formal document presented at the meeting called by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman noted “reports from many sources alleging arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings including of children, rape by soldiers, burning of Rohingya villages as well as destruction of homes and places of worship.”
“It is troubling that these alleged violations occurred in the context of security operations conducted by Government authorities,” the document said.
Suu Kyi called the meeting in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, to brief members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, amid growing international criticism of her army’s alleged abuse of the Rohingya.
Earlier Monday, Amnesty International released a report saying that based on the accounts of violence it had collected, the actions of Myanmar’s military may constitute crimes against humanity.
Malaysia’s presentation to the group proposed “unimpeded humanitarian access to the affected areas” — which have been mostly closed off to journalists and aid workers for about two months — and an effort by ASEAN to coordinate humanitarian assistance to the areas.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters that Myanmar agreed to allow access for humanitarian assistance. It has vaguely committed before to allowing access, but not fixed a date.
Myanmar also suggested setting up “an independent group of experts or an eminent persons group to investigate and verify the situation in the Rakhine State” to provide recommendations on how to ease the crisis, according to the document from Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation.
“We believe that in order to dispel these allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’ or in some cases ‘genocide’, it is incumbent upon the Government to be transparent and to provide timely and accurate information as well as provide access to the affected areas,” the document said.
It was unclear how Malaysia’s suggestions were received at the meeting. Suu Kyi had earlier complained about foreign interference in the situation.
Myanmar’s army went on a counterinsurgency offensive in northern Rakhine state after an October attack there on police outposts that killed nine officers. The area is home to most of Myanmar’s estimated 1 million Rohingya, who face severe social and official discrimination in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country.
Rakhine, located in Myanmar’s west, has been home to simmering tensions between the Rohingya and the country’s Buddhist population. The last major outbreak of violence in 2012 left hundreds dead and drove 140,000 people into internal displacement camps.
The Malaysian statement noted that member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with Bangladesh, have long coped with Rohingya refugees, making the point that the Rohingya crisis affected the entire region.
The Malaysian document, presented at the meeting and released public afterward, was considerably stronger in tone than remarks afterward by other attendees.
“What we want to do is to make sure that before we consider moving forward to another possibility, options or any other methods to address the problems, we want to get the full picture,” said Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.
Retno, the Indonesian foreign minister, expressed appreciation for the briefing, which she described as “a very transparent and honest exchange for peace.” She said the two most important developments coming out of the meeting were agreement that Myanmar would regularly update fellow ASEAN members on the situation in Rakhine, and Myanmar’s commitment to allow access for humanitarian assistance.