September 20, 2017 6:24 pm JST

Myanmar's neighbors cold-shoulder Suu Kyi's address

Regional countries demand assertive action on Rohingya crisis

CK TAN, Nikkei staff writer

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a televised national address in Naypyitaw on Sept. 19 (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Asian countries have continued to call on Myanmar to take immediate action to resolve the Rohingya refugee crisis. 

Their demand came after Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi's speech on Tuesday, in which she promised to re-admit tens of thousands of the Muslim minority Rohingya who had fled the ethnic violence in Rakhine state in recent weeks. But Myanmar's neighbors clearly felt that Suu Kyi's speech did not go far enough. 

Malaysia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Anifah Aman said Suu Kyi's government must implement immediately all recommendations by an independent commission chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to solve the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine. Afinah, who was speaking at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's contact group meeting on Rohingya in New York Tuesday, also warned that regional countries could "bear the brunt of serious instability" from religious extremists travelling in the guise of refugees.

His statement is the second in recent weeks following outcries in Muslim-majority Malaysia over the plight of Rohingya fleeing for their lives and from their villages torched by Myanmar's security forces. Kuala Lumpur has sent humanitarian aid to Bangladesh, where over 410,000 stateless Rohingya are seeking refuge. Malaysia also hosts over 60,000 Rohingya refugees who arrived before the recent crisis. 

Malaysia's sentiment was shared by Indonesia at the same OIC meeting held at the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly. Jusuf Kalla, the country's vice president said OIC would add more pressure on Myanmar with a joint communique, adding that Jakarta will play a leading role to resolve the issue as Indonesia was the only country allowed into Rakhine.

Too little, too late

The government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar has angered the international community for its muted response toward the so-called security operations, which were triggered by an attack on police posts on Aug. 25 by a militant Rohingya group that killed 12 people. Current U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has referred to the military's outsized response as "a vicious cycle of persecution, discrimination, radicalization and violent repression." 

Rallies have been held in Malaysia and Indonesia where thousands of Muslims demonstrated at the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta and also at a Buddhist monastery in Medan.

Even India, an ally of Myanmar, has spoken out, acknowledging for the first time the role played by authorities in triggering the crisis. Rajiv Chander, India's permanent representative to the U.N. office in Geneva called for constructive engagement with the Myanmar government through socio-economic and infrastructure development in Rakhine. India is "deeply concerned" and will provide financial and technical assistance for identified projects in Rakhine, Chander told the U.N. Human Rights Council after Suu Kyi's Tuesday address.

In a televised speech in English apparently directed at the international community, Suu Kyi condemned "all human rights violations and unlawful violence" but stopped short of addressing allegations of atrocities committed by the country's powerful military in Rakhine.

"Suu Kyi's speech came too late ... and didn't address the problem," said Teuku Rezasyah, a lecturer at Indonesia's Padjajaran University. The international relations expert said the international community, especially the OIC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in which Myanmar is a member, should do more to address the Rohingya issue. 

"There is no need to censure [the] Myanmar government regime," said Rezasyah, adding that doing so will only push it closer to another ally, China. "But with a show of support, Myanmar will think twice [before persecuting the Rohingya] because it is highly dependent on foreign investments."

Nikkei Staff writers Erwida Maulia in Jakarta and Kiran Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this article. 

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