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Malaysia slams Myanmar over Rohingya 'genocide'

December 4, 2016

Malaysia has accused Myanmar of committing "genocide" against Rohingya Muslims. The bloody crackdown is quickly gaining a regional dimension.

Malaysia Protest Myanmar Gewalt gegen Rohingya
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Ismail

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday called on the world to prevent an unfolding "genocide" carried out by Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims, as a vicious crackdown triggers an exodus of the persecuted ethnic minority.

"Please do something. The UN do something. The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place," Najib told a crowd of several thousand supporters and Rohingya refugees at a rally in Kuala Lumpur.

Razak took direct aim at Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and her new government for not doing enough as reports pour in that Myanmar's army is raping, murdering and torturing Rohingya in the western Rakhine state.

"What's the use of Aung San Suu Kyi having a Nobel Prize?" asked the leader of the Muslim majority nation. "We want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough ... We must and we will defend Muslims and Islam," he said, calling on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and ASEAN, the 10-country Southeast Asia organization, to act.

Stateless and persecuted

Several thousand Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh or been internally displaced since Myanmar's army cracked down on the group following an early October border incident in which unknown militants killed nine border guards.

Myanmar's army blamed the attack on Islamist Rohingya militants and has rebuffed concerns over the subsequent crackdown as propaganda.

Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya make up most of the population in the region of Rakhine. They are denied citizenship and suffer from institutionalized discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar despite many of them having lived in the country for generations.

Karte Myanmar, Rakhine State

There have been repeated reports Myanmar's military has gang-raped women, murdered civilians and set ablaze Rohingya villages, pushing thousands of desperate people into neighboring Bangladesh. International observers, journalists and aid agencies face severe restrictions of movement while trying to verify the claims in the area. A top UN humanitarian official in Bangladesh last month accused Myanmar's army of "ethnic cleansing."

Tensions rising in Southeast Asia

The Rohingya issue has been a major test for Suu Kyi's new administration following decades of military rule. Her unwillingness or inability to do anything about the unfolding atrocities has garnered international criticism that she has done too little to address the plight of the Rohingya communities. But there is also recognition that her administration is somewhat limited given that the army still holds ministries responsible for security.

Systemic discrimination and previous bouts of intercommunal violence between Myanmar's Buddhists and Rohingya sent waves of refugees to neighboring countries. There are more than 50,000 Rohingya in Malaysia, where critics point out that they face discrimination and live on the margins of society. 

Indonesien Protest gegen Gewalt an Rohingya Angehörigen in Myanmar
An Indonesian protester in Jakarta last month holds a sign calling for an end to "ethnic cleansing" of RohingyaImage: Getty Images/AFP/B. Ismoyo

Some observers say Razak is using the Rohingya issue to distract attention from a financial corruption scandal.

Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya has gained a regional dimension as Indonesia and Bangladesh also call on the international community to take action. Several protests have been held in Indonesia, and last weekend authorities there arrested two militants allegedly planning an attack on Myanmar's embassy in Jakarta. Over the past several years, the treatment of the Rohingya has become a major issue across the Islamic world.

Earlier this week, the United States' top diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, warned that continued violence against the Rohingya threatened to incite jihadist extremism in Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh. He also urged Malaysia and Indonesia to avoid stoking religious passion over the issue by organizing protests.

cw/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)