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Malaysia opposes Cayetano’s ASEAN chair statement on Rohingya crisis

Malaysia has disassociated itself from the statement issued by Philippine Foreign Secretary and current Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) chairman Alan Peter Cayetano on the Rohingya crisis, calling it a "misrepresentation of reality."

The ASEAN chairman’s statement, issued at the sidelines of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sunday, “expressed concern over the recent developments in Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar” following the August 25 violence where 77 Rohingya Muslims and 12 security forces were killed.

In a rare move by a member-state of ASEAN, which prides itself on consensus, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman openly opposed the chairman’s statement.

Aman issued a strongly-worded statement, pointing out the non-mention of Rohingyas, a persecuted Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, in the final document.

“Malaysia would like to disassociate itself with the Chairman Statement as we are of the view that it is a misrepresentation of the reality of the situation,” Aman said following the statement’s release.

Aman added that “Malaysia has made known its concerns but they were not reflected in the Chairman Statement.”

“Hence, the Chairman Statement was not based on consensus. The statement also omits the Rohingyas as one of the affected communities.”

Cayetano’s statement issued on behalf of the ASEAN “condemned the attacks against Myanmar security forces” and “all acts of violence which resulted in loss of civilian lives, destruction of homes and displacement of large numbers of people.”

As this year’s leader of the 10-member regional bloc, which also includes Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, the Philippines has leeway in setting the language of the ASEAN chairman’s statement on all kinds of issues.

In contrast, a joint communique, usually issued at the annual ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting, is a negotiated document where members can argue their views on any concern.

Cayetano’s statement said that “Foreign Ministers acknowledged that the situation in Rakhine State is a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots.” It also urged all parties to “avoid actions that will further worsen the situation on the ground.”

The statement also said the ministers welcomed the commitment by Myanmar authorities “to ensure the safety of civilians, take immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, restore normal socio-economic conditions, and address the refugee problem through verification process.”

While Malaysia condemned the attacks against Myanmar security forces by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), Aman said subsequent “clearance operations” by Myanmar authorities were “disproportionate” as it had led to deaths of “many innocent civilians and caused more than 400,000 Rohingyas to be displaced.”

“Malaysia expressed grave concerns over such atrocities which have unleashed a full-scale humanitarian crisis that the world simply cannot ignore but must be compelled to act on,” Aman said.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to respond to Malaysia’s statements.

“Malaysia strongly urges the government of Myanmar to end the violence, stop the destruction to lives and properties, allow immediate unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas and all affected communities, and to resolve the Rohingya refugee problem,” Aman said.

“Viable and long-term solutions to the root causes to the conflict must be found in order for the Rohingyas and the affected communities to be able to rebuild their lives,” he added.

The United Nations said more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees had fled to Bangladesh, and of this figure, 420,000 arrived in the past three and a half weeks. — DVM, GMA News