Indonesia says ASEAN concerned by Myanmar unrest

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 2:55pm

Deadly sectarian violence rocking western Myanmar is “an issue of concern” for the whole of Southeast Asia, Indonesia’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Dozens of people have been killed and more than 100,000 displaced by clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims since June, casting a shadow over a string of widely praised political reforms.

“Of course the matter to do with the Rohingya, the Rakhine state is an issue of concern for ASEAN countries, for individual ASEAN countries,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.

“We [Indonesia] wish very much for Myanmar to be able to address this problem in a positive way in the same way that it has on the overall democratic process,” he said ahead of an Asia-Europe summit being held in Laos.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been accused by the West in the past of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses by the generals who ran Myanmar for decades.

But a series of political reforms under President Thein Sein, including the release of political prisoners and the election of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament, has brought a sea change in relations.

“The fact that we can meet here in the heart of Southeast Asia almost without having Myanmar as an issue centre-stage, as it has been in the past, is a reflection of how far Myanmar has travelled in terms of its democratic transition,” Natalegawa said.

Top European officials including French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti are due to lead efforts at the summit to reassure Asia that the long-running euro-zone debt crisis is finally abating.

“We have confidence in Europe’s capacity to address its own challenges and problems... but it’s always useful to be able to share lessons learned on dealing with financial crises,” Natalegawa said, noting Asia’s experience with the market turmoil that shook the region in the late 1990s.

“While Europe may be encountering some difficulties just now, Asia can continue to remain as a strong locomotive for global economic growth,” he added.