Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan has warned that sectarian bloodshed in Myanmar could radicalise minority Rohingya Muslims there and destabilise the whole of Southeast Asia.
Surin called on the international community to help after clashes in the western state of Rakhine between Muslims and Buddhists this month killed at least 88 people and displaced more than 26,000.
The Rohingya in Myanmar face “tremendous pressure, pain and suffering”, the Jakarta Post on Tuesday quoted Southeast Asia’s top diplomat as saying at a human rights dialogue in the Indonesian capital.
“If the international community, including Asean, are not able to relieve that pressure and pain (the Rohingya) could become radicalised and the entire region could be destabilised, including the Malacca Straits,” Surin said.
The Malacca Straits are the main shipping lane between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Asean is in a position to offer humanitarian aid to Myanmar, he said, as it did after Cyclone Nargis hit the country in 2008, killing 138,000.
“Let’s see what we can do to relieve them from poverty, shortages of food, shelter and sanitation,” added the head of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar.
Decades-old animosity between Buddhists and the Rohingya exploded in June after the apparent rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine woman sparked a series of vicious revenge attacks.
The total death toll since June has reached 180, although rights groups fear the actual number killed could be much higher.
Other Muslims in Rakhine have also been swept up in the latest violence, including the Kaman, one of Myanmar’s officially recognised ethnic groups.
The unrest has prompted a growing international outcry, with the United Nations warning it could jeopardise the country’s widely praised reforms.