Kuala Lumpur: Myanmar has rejected an offer by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to open talks aimed at quelling deadly communal violence there, the regional bloc’s chief said on Tuesday.
Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said he proposed setting up tripartite talks between the association, the United Nations, and Myanmar’s reformist government to prevent the violence having a broader regional impact.
But he said Myanmar turned down the offer to discuss the bloodshed in Rakhine state that has seen around 180 people killed since June in the restive west of the country.
“Myanmar believes it is their internal matter, but your internal matter could be ours the next day if you are not careful,” he told reporters after delivering a speech at a forum in Kuala Lumpur.
Fresh fighting in Rakhine state this month saw another 88 killed and added to the thousands of homes torched, with tens of thousands of minority Muslim Rohingya now living in overcrowded camps. Rights groups fear the actual number killed could be much higher.
Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government, which has been lauded by Western nations for a series of democratic reforms after decades of outright military rule, has imposed emergency rule in the face of continued tension in the region.
Meanwhile, Pitsuwan has warned that sectarian bloodshed in Myanmar could radicalise minority Rohingya Muslims there and destabilise the whole of Southeast Asia.
“If the international community, including Asean, are not able to relieve that pressure and pain [the Rohingya] could become radicalised and the entire region could be destabilised, including the Malacca Straits,” Surin said.
The Malacca Straits are the main shipping lane between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Asean is in a position to offer humanitarian aid to Myanmar, he said, as it did after Cyclone Nargis hit the country in 2008, killing 138,000.
“Let’s see what we can do to relieve them from poverty, shortages of food, shelter and sanitation,” added the head of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar.
Decades-old animosity between Buddhists and the Rohingya exploded in June after the apparent rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine woman sparked a series of vicious revenge attacks.
The total death toll since June has reached 180, although rights groups fear the actual number killed could be much higher.