Malaysia says OIC will push Myanmar to halt Rohingya crisis

Jan 18, 2017

Malaysia's foreign minister says the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is expected to call for a halt to violence against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority and for the safe return of refugees

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia's foreign minister said Wednesday that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is expected to call for a halt to violence against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority and for the safe return of refugees.

Malaysia, which has urged Myanmar to stop what it calls a policy of genocide toward Rohingya, is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from OIC nations in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday to discuss the crisis.

Security forces in Buddhist-majority Myanmar are accused of widespread abuses against Rohingya, including killings, rape and the burning of thousands of homes, that have driven an estimated 65,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh in the past three months.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said the matter is worrying to the OIC because it was established to protect the Muslim community.

He said the OIC envoy for Myanmar, Syed Hamid Albar, will brief the ministers from the 57-member OIC about the crisis.

A communique to be issued at the end of the one-day meeting is expected to call on Myanmar to "abide by its obligations under international law and prevent the worsening of what is now an acute humanitarian crisis" in its Rakhine state, where most Rohingya live, he said. It will also urge Myanmar to ensure the safe return of displaced Rohingya, he said.

Anifah said Malaysia will push for Myanmar to allow "unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance to reach the Rohingya."

Myanmar's army began a crackdown in Rakhine in October after nine policemen were killed in attacks along the border. The government and the army have rejected accusations of abuses and killings, saying they have simply been conducting a "clearance operation" in the region.

Rohingya villagers and activists say hundreds of civilians have been killed. The number cannot be verified because authorities have limited access for aid workers and journalists to areas where the deaths occurred. Recent satellite images show thousands of houses were burned.

Despite living in Myanmar for generations, an estimated 1 million Rohingya are barred from citizenship in the nation of 50 million, and instead live as some of the world's most persecuted people. More than 100,000 Rohingya are living in squalid internal displacement camps.

There have been expressions of serious concern by international human rights groups, U.N. agencies and Western governments about treatment of the Rohingya.

In Myanmar, there was a rare show of solidarity for the Rohingya cause Wednesday as more than 40 civil society groups announced their support for an independent investigation into the situation in Rakhine. Prejudice against the Rohingya is widespread in Myanmar, with ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks spearheading campaigns against the minority. Those showing sympathy for the Rohingya have sometimes been harassed themselves.

"Despite concerns voiced by governments and human rights organizations ... the situation across Rakhine state continues to worsen, and tensions continue to rise," the groups said in a statement.

They called for a "commission of inquiry to fully assess the totality of the situation in Rakhine state and provide clear recommendations for the current government to effectively address and prevent further problems."

A commission with a similar mandate was established last year with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as its chief, but critics charge that some of its Myanmar members are biased against the Rohingya.

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