Asean leaders to press Myanmar to solve Rohingya issue
Southeast Asian leaders will put pressure on Myanmar to resolve violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims, a senior regional official said yesterday, after unrest left scores dead and as many as 100,000 people displaced since June.
Myanmar President Thein Sein has blamed nationalist and religious extremists for unrest in June and October that killed at least 167 people, but has faced criticism for failing to address underlying tensions in Rakhine State, where an estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are not recognised as citizens.
"Eight hundred thousand people are now under tremendous pressure," Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), told reporters on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.
"If that issue is not handled well and effectively, there is a risk of radicalisation, there is a risk of extremism," he said.
Surin said he expected Asean leaders to raise the issue with Myanmar, which is a member of the bloc, during bilateral talks. The leaders were committed to reducing internal conflicts as the group moves towards economic integration by 2015, he said.
After a week of violence in June killed at least 80 people in two townships, unrest in late October spread across much of the state. Witnesses said mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists attacked Muslim villages with petrol bombs, swords and guns.
Nearly 4,700 homes were destroyed in 42 villages, according to government data compiled by UN agencies. More than 97 per cent of the 36,394 people who fled the latest violence are Muslims, according to official statistics.
A leading international rights group yesterday accused Myanmar security forces of supporting some of the brutal anti-Muslim violence last month. The government rejected the allegations.
Human Rights Watch said soldiers in some parts of western Rakhine state also tried to stop Buddhist attacks and protect Muslim civilians, known as Rohingya. But the group said the government needs to do much more to protect the stateless minority.
The US-based rights group also released new satellite imagery detailing the extensive destruction of several Muslim areas.
Additional reporting by Associated Press