Malaysia hits ASEAN Chairman's Statement on Myanmar crisis

MANILA, Philippines – Malaysia on Sunday, September 24, called the ASEAN Chairman's Statement on the crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine state a "misrepresentation" of the real situation on the ground.

The Chairman's Statement, issued Sunday by Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), "condemned the attacks against Myanmar security forces on 25 August [2017] and all acts of violence which resulted in loss of civilian lives, destruction of homes and displacement of large numbers of people."

The statement said the foreign ministers "acknowledged that the situation in Rakhine State is a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots."

It also said that "viable and long-term solutions to the root causes of the conflict must be found, including encouraging closer dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh, so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives."

It was formulated in meetings chaired by Cayetano on the sidelines of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.

However, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman opposed the statement, saying that it is a "misrepresentation of the reality of the situation," and pointing out the omission of the Rohingyas in the final document.

Aman also said the statement was "not based on consensus."

He said that while Malaysia condemned the August 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, it said that "subsequent 'clearance operations' by Myanmar authorities was disproportionate," and has led to civilian deaths and displacement.

Malaysia urged Myanmar "to end the violence, stop the destruction to lives and properties, allow immediate unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas and all affected communities, and to resolve the Rohingya refugee problem."

'Deep respect' for Malaysia's stance

In response, the DFA "underscored the Philippines' deep respect for Malaysia's stand on the issue in the northern Rakhine State."

"The Philippines as chair tolerates the public manifestation of dissenting voices," the DFA said, and noted that it is the second time the regional bloc did not reach a consensus on the Rohingya issue.

However, the Philippines, as ASEAN chair, is given a "certain level of flexibility in formulating the ASEAN Chairman's Statement on various issues," according to the DFA.

"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 added.

About 430,000 people – mainly Muslims – have escaped from Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 25 when attacks by Rohingya militants in Rakhine state unleashed a blitz by the Buddhist-majority military.

The influx adds to about 300,000 Rohingya already in camps around the Bangladesh town of Cox's Bazar.

The global condemnation has triggered a defensive instinct in Myanmar where the Rohingya are not citizens and are broadly reviled. – with reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com