Myanmar has agreed to grant “necessary humanitarian access” to the troubled Arakan (Rakhine) State, after a rare intervention from South-East Asian countries.
Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Yangon on Monday to discuss the situation in Arakan (Rakhine) State, where a militant attack on border posts in October sparked a brutal “clearance” operation by Myanmar’s army.
For weeks, the United Nations and World Food Program have been almost completely shut out of the troubled area, amid reports of extrajudicial killing, rape and arson by soldiers.
“The Government of Myanmar reiterated its readiness to grant necessary humanitarian access and to keep ASEAN members informed of developments in the Rakhine State,” a press release from Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
However, it was not clear what humanitarian access the Myanmar Government will deem “necessary” given its restrictions and blanket denials up to this point.
The meeting was a rare departure from ASEAN’s usual policy of not interfering with other country’s affairs, and came after Malaysia’s Prime Minister described the killing of Rohingyas as a “genocide”.
Muslim Rohingyas face deeply rooted discrimination from Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, who consider them illegal immigrants, despite them living in Myanmar for generations in their own ancestral land.
“There continue to be reports from many sources alleging arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings including of children, rape by soldiers, burning of Rohingya villages as well as destruction of homes and places of worship,” said Anifah Aman, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, according to a speech released later by the ministry.
“It is troubling that these alleged violations occurred in the context of security operations conducted by Government authorities.”
What Myanmar called a “retreat”, Malaysia labelled an “intervention” — although some have described their vocal advocacy as a diversion from homegrown corruption and human rights scandals.
“I believe that Her Excellency Daw Aung Suu Kyi’s promise to address the root causes affecting the local population, namely that of citizenship and status, and to provide relief to the internally displaced persons since 2012, would go a long way in relieving tension and promote realistic and sustainable solutions,” Mr Anifah said.
With access restricted, there are no independent accounts of the violence but it is thought that dozens of Rohingyas have been shot dead and 30,000 have fled to Bangladesh.
‘Military is directly responsible for the violations’
The latest report on the violence comes from Amnesty International, which said the army’s actions may constitute crimes against humanity.
“The Myanmar military has targeted Rohingya civilians in a callous and systematic campaign of violence,” said Rafendi Djamin, South-East Asia director for Amnesty International.
The Amnesty report alleged the Myanmar army opened fire with two helicopter gunships, killing men, women and children, after an earlier skirmish that killed a soldier.
“The military [soldiers] were shooting randomly… If they saw someone, the helicopter shot,” a 30-year old man told Amnesty.
“I ran away with my family… but I could see them burning the houses… later, after things were silent I went back to the village… we found dead bodies,” he said.
Amnesty levelled strong criticism at Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate whose reputation has taken a beating since achieving power.
“While the military is directly responsible for the violations, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to live up to both her political and moral responsibility to try to stop and condemn what is unfolding in Rakhine state,” Mr Djamin said.
Ms Suu Kyi’s party swept elections last year in what many hoped would be a more democratic and peaceful era, but she has little influence over the military.
She did not comment after Monday’s meeting but has previously asked the foreign media to stop using the term “Rohingya” and give Myanmar more time to deal with the problem.
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Source: ABC News