Myanmar calls ASEAN talks over Rakhine crackdown


YANGON — Myanmar has called an emergency ASEAN meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in northern Rakhine State, a diplomat said Monday, as regional tensions deepen over a military crackdown on the Rohingya community in Maungdaw District.

More than 27,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh over the past two months, fleeing a military campaign that began in the wake of a coordinated attack on police posts in October.

Their stories of mass rape and murder at the hands of security forces have galvanised protests in Muslim nations around the region, with Buddhist-majority Myanmar facing diplomatic pressure from its neighbours.

Last week Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lashed out at State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for allowing “genocide” on her watch, speaking before thousands of angry protesters in Kuala Lumpur. 

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Myanmar, which has vehemently denied the accusations, responded by angrily summoning Malaysia’s ambassador and banning its workers from going to the country.

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general appointed to head the government’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, urged campaigners to avoid describing military operations in Rakhine as a “genocide”, saying that accusations of systematic rights abuses needed to be substantiated by an independent judicial investigation.

A diplomatic source in the Philippines confirmed Myanmar had invited them for an emergency ASEAN meeting to discuss “the Rohingya issue”.

The source declined to give more details on the meeting, which the Nikkei Asian Review reported would be held in Yangon on December 19. Myanmar officials could not be reached for comment.

Last week the UN’s special adviser on Myanmar criticised the government’s handling of the crisis, saying it had “caused frustration locally and disappointment internationally”.

Aung San Suu Kyi also held talks over Rakhine with the foreign minister of Indonesia, after cancelling a visit to the country in November following protests and an attempted attack on the Myanmar embassy.

State media report almost 100 people have been killed — 17 soldiers and 76 suspects from the October 9 attacks — in the army operation in Rakhine. 

That includes six suspects who died during interrogations, the Global New Light of Myanmar said on Saturday, out of some 575 people who have been detained.

Advocacy groups put the death toll in the hundreds, but foreign journalists and independent investigators have been barred from visiting the area to verify the figures.

With the crisis showing no sign of abating, the government over the weekend extended a 7:00pm to 6:00am curfew across the locked-down area for another two months. 

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