Malaysian Prime Minister Wants Myanmar to Stop Violence, Discrimination Against Rohingya

Malaysia's prime minister urged the Myanmar government on Thursday to end reported violence and discrimination against the stateless Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state where security forces have allegedly carried out atrocities against the group.

Premier Najib Razak warned that Islamic extremists could use the plight of the Rohingya, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by Myanmar's Buddhist-majority population, as a way to radicalize the minority group, which is denied basic rights.

Myanmar army soldiers stand accused of killing civilians, torturing villagers, raping women and girls, and setting homes ablaze in Rohingya communities during a security sweep in northern Rakhine following deadly attacks on border guard stations last October.

The government and army have denied the allegations and blamed the attacks on Rohingya militants who received training and financial help from abroad.

"Many have suffered appalling deaths, and those that have lived through the atrocities have witnessed or endured unspeakable cruelty," Najib was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying during a special meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The intergovernmental body of 57 member nations met in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to discuss the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

"For a start, the killing must stop," he said. "The violation of women and girls must stop."

'The Rohingya cannot wait'

Contacted by RFA's Myanmar Service, the Myanmar government declined to comment on the OIC meeting.

Tensions between Muslim-majority Malaysia and Myanmar over the treatment of the Rohingya have risen in the last several weeks.

Early last December, Najib led a rally of thousands in Kuala Lumpur to protest what he called the Myanmar government's "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya.

At the time, he also urged the United Nations and OIC to take more active roles in the latest Rohingya crisis, which has caused an exodus of about 65,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to the U.N.

"[T]he government of Myanmar disputes the terms 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing,' but whatever the terminology, the Rohingya cannot wait," Najib said in opening remarks at the OIC session.

Malaysia is sending a food flotilla for the Rohingya in Rakhine state and is providing 10 million ringgit ($2.24 million) for humanitarian relief.

The Myanmar government has previously vowed to turn the flotilla back unless the organizers in charge of the mission apply for permission to enter Myanmar territory.

A decision to allow the aid mission to enter the country would help create a more positive image of Myanmar, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said at the OIC meeting, the country's New Straits Times reported.

"Not only [would] we welcome the commitment by the government of Myanmar, but we would also like to assist them by giving a positive impression to the international community towards what is happening in Rakhine State," he was quoted as telling reporters at the meeting.

Solo protest against Malaysia

Back in Myanmar, Myat Hsu Mon, a former political science student, carried out a solo protest against the OIC meeting by marching from Yangon University to the Malaysian embassy.

She had also sent a letter to the Malaysian embassy, asking that the country respect the rights of the 135 ethnic groups on Myanmar's official list-which does not include the Rohingya-and reject the OIC meeting to discuss Myanmar's problem in a foreign country.

"Fifty-seven OIC countries held a meeting in Malaysia to discuss a Myanmar problem," she told RFA's Myanmar Service. "It is direct interference in and an insult to Myanmar's sovereignty. I can't accept it; and that's why I'm protesting."

Myat Hsu Mon said she will join others to protest if her solo effort is not effective in preventing Malaysia from interfering in Myanmar's affairs.

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