Rohingya Vision

Myanmar Keeps Rohingya Muslims From Upstaging Summit

Myanmar Keeps Rohingya Muslims From Upstaging Summit
May 14
08:42 2014

Asean Secretary-General Says Issue Won’t Be Brought Up at Summit


May 11, 2014 6:39 a.m. ET

A Rohingya woman walks at the Kyein Ni Pyin camp for internally displaced people in Pauk Taw, Rakhine state, Myanmar, on April 23. Reuters

 NAYPYITAW, Myanmar—The plight of Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya minority was absent from official discussions during a biannual summit of Southeast Asian leaders this weekend, despite growing concern of the issue’s regional implications.

The issue “has not been brought up and will not be brought up,” said Le Luong Minh, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

“We don’t see it as an issue that is a priority for this summit,” he added.

Myanmar sees the Rohingya as foreigners from neighboring Bangladesh, but the group says they have been living in Myanmar for generations. Left out from the country’s citizenship act, Rohingya Muslims are denied most rights including freedom of movement, living in deteriorating conditions since violent riots in 2012 in Rakhine state between Buddhists and Muslims pushed them out of their homes.

Their lives have become increasingly desperate since offices of international aid agencies were attacked in Rakhine state in late March, leaving these agencies unable to conduct programs there.

Analysts say the issue is turning more regional in nature, since violence and conditions in these camps have forced many Rohingya to seek refuge in neighboring countries, escaping in rickety fishing boats to Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and even as far as Australia, causing a wider refugee crisis for this stateless population.

The summit, they added—especially with Myanmar at the helm of Asean—could have been an opportunity for regional countries to exert some influence on the issue.

Romain Caillaud, managing director of the Myanmar branch of political consultants Vriens & Partners, said that the situation in Rakhine state is one in which “a number of Asean countries with Muslim majorities—Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei—are displeased.”

Both Malaysia and Indonesia have in previous statements criticized Myanmar over violence against Muslims in the country. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, in an interview with the Irrawaddy magazine in January, said the issue of the Rohingya “impacts all [Asean countries]” and one in which Indonesia has to be “keenly concerned,” because of the potential for terrorism within its borders.

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