Rohingya issue raised at Asean meet
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has vowed to monitor the plight of the Rohingyas, reports Radio Free Asia.
The Asean head raised the issue with the top diplomats of Bangladesh and Myanmar on Friday, reports RFA, a non-profit corporation that broadcasts news and information in nine Asian languages.
Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has taken “a personal interest” in the Rohingyas and had spoken directly to Bangladeshi and Myanmarese representatives during a meeting of the grouping's foreign ministers in Phnom Penh this week, according to the Asean website.
Both Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and her Myanmarese counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin agreed to cooperate and keep Asean informed on the status of the ethnic group following deadly ethnic violence between Rohingyas and Rakhines in western Myanmar in June, reports RFA.
"We will keep our eyes and ears on the plight of these unfortunate people," Surin said on completion of the Asean meeting and talks between Asean ministers and their foreign counterparts.
He said he appreciated the concern of the Asean people for the “sufferings” of the Rohingyas, who number around 8,00,000 in Myanmar and are considered to be some of the world's most persecuted minorities.
Aside from Myanmar, Rohingyas also live as migrant workers in many of the other Asean states -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Myanmarese President Thein Sein had requested the United Nations refugee agency this week to place Rohingyas in refugee camps or send them out of the country. His request was immediately refused by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Many of Myanmarese Rohingyas have lived in the country for generations, but Thein Sein said the ethnic minority is made up of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and that “we cannot accept them here.”
Bangladesh, where an estimated 3,00,000 Rohingyas live, has turned back boatloads of the oppressed group arriving on its shores since the outbreak of the unrest.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was also in Phnom Penh this week attending the Asean meeting, met with Thein Sein in Siem Reap ahead of a US-Asean business forum and raised the issue of the Rohingyas with the Myanmarese leader, officials said.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Hillary stressed Washington's willingness “to be supportive of help with internally displaced people (IDP),” referring to the Muslim ethnic group.
The official said Thein Sein had not responded directly, other than to say that the general situation with regard to the Rohingyas had been “very dangerous for the country” and that Burma “needed continued help and support with IDPs.”
“They talked about the situation… He talked about how difficult it had been. She offered that if more support was needed with IDPs that we could be supportive,” the official said.
Violence between Rohingyas and Rakhines flared in June, leaving some 78 people dead and 90,000 displaced and living in camps, according to government statistics.
The clashes were sparked after a Rakhine woman was allegedly raped and killed by three Rohingya men in late May.
On June 3, a group of Rakhine vigilantes attacked and killed 10 Rohingyas on a bus they believed were responsible for the woman's death. On June 8, thousands of Rohingyas rioted in Maungdaw, destroying Rakhine property, burning homes, and causing an unknown number of deaths. In the aftermath, Rohingyas carried out similar attacks on Rakhines elsewhere around the state.
Asean foreign ministers had earlier tasked the Asean secretariat to monitor the situation of the Rohingyas and keep them updated after thousands were turned away from countries where they sought asylum.
According to the UNHCR, around one million Rohingyas are now thought to live outside Myanmar, but they have not been welcomed by a third country.