Malaysia disowns Asean stand
MALAYSIAN Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Monday his country would disassociate itself from a watered down statement on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar released by Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, saying it was “a misrepresentation of… reality.”
Aman also said Cayetano’s statement, issued as this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations chairman, was not based on consensus.
“Malaysia has made known its concerns but they were not reflected in the chairman’s statement. Hence the chairman’s statement was not based on consensus,” Aman said.
In the Asean chairman’s statement issued on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sunday, Cayetano wrote that the bloc’s foreign ministers expressed concern over the recent developments in Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar, also an Asean member, and extended their deepest condolences to all the victims and affected communities of the conflict.
“The statement... omits the Rohingyas as one of the affected communities,” Aman said.
Although Malaysia condemned the attacks against Myanmar security forces on Aug. 25 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the subsequent “clearance operations” by Myanmar authorities was “disproportionate” to the incident and lead to the death to many innocent civilians and displaced more than 400,000 Rohingyan Muslims.
In his statement, Cayetano said the foreign ministers acknowledged that the situation in Rakhine State is a “complex inter-communal issue with deep historic roots.”
“They strongly urged all the parties involved to avoid actions that will further worsen the situation on the ground,” the statement said.
Cayetano’s statement, issued supposedly on behalf of the 10-member bloc, clearly sidesteps the Myanmar government’s crimes against the minority Rohingya people in a crisis the United Nations’ human rights chief earlier this month called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” the Malaysian foreign minister said.
Reacting to Aman’s statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that it “respects” Malaysia’s decision disassociating itself from Asean chairman’s statement.
The DFA confirmed that Malaysia was able to articulate in several Asean meetings in New York about its stand on the issue, but Manila explained that Cayetano had to “respect and take into account the sentiments of the other members of the 10-member regional bloc.”
“Asean is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in the northern Rakhine State and since Malaysia has different views on some issues, out of respect for its position, we decided that instead of a foreign ministers statement, we would issue a chairman’s statement that would reflect the general sentiments of the other foreign ministers,” the DFA said.
The DFA further explained that the Philippines, as this year’s Asean chairman, is allowed a certain level of flexibility in formulating the Asean chairman’s statement on various issues.
The DFA said that the chairman’s statement was issued after extensive consultations with Malaysia, adding that the other foreign ministers knew that it will disassociate itself from the statement.
Several years ago, Asean came out with one statement to reflect the position of nine of the 10 member-states, also on the Rakhine issue.
“What is crucial now is that Asean undertakes a coordinated effort to assist Myanmar in addressing the needs of the people in the area, in particular their security, livelihood, and well-being, and to provide humanitarian assistance to those communities which are affected,” the DFA said.
More than 400,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape death and destruction of villages in the Western state of Rakhine.
The Rohingyas, a stateless Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have long experienced persecution as they are believed to be illegal immigrants.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been facing international criticism for her handling of the violence against Rohingyas.