Malaysia’s military chief has urged the Myanmar government to resolve the Rohingya crisis before it is exploited by the Islamic State (IS) militant group, in remarks that may inflame a simmering diplomatic row between the two countries.
General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, Malaysia’s chief of defence forces, reportedly made the comments earlier this week when he was in Myanmar to meet his counterpart Min Aung Hlaing, as well as Myanmar President Htin Kyaw.
“General Zulkifeli told General Ming Aung Hlaing that if it is not handled well and with wisdom, it could create a situation which will be exploited by Daesh (IS) to expand its influence and power in South-East Asian region,” according to a statement from the Malaysian armed forces on Wednesday (Dec 7).
“The same view was conveyed when General Zulkifeli met with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw on the same day.”
Experts have warned that the ongoing crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims in the north-western Rakhine state might spark a militant backlash in South-east Asia. There were reports that supporters of the Rohingya expressing hopes that terrorist groups would fight against the Myanmar government.
General Zulkifeli’s remarks came amid a diplomatic spat between the two countries over Myanmar’s military crackdown in Rakhine.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denounced what he called a “genocide” of the Rohingya minority, as he urged Asian neighbours and the world to step up the pressure to stop the violence.
Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister, has called for a review of Myanmar’s membership in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).
Myanmar on Tuesday summoned Malaysia’s ambassador over what it described as Mr Najib’s “unverified and unsubstantiated allegations”. The Myanmar government has also suspended sending workers to Malaysia.
The plight of Rohingya in predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar has galvanised Muslims in South-east Asia and beyond. Angry Muslims protestors in Malaysia and Indonesia have taken to the streets to condemn Myanmar over its crackdown in Rakhine that saw more than 10,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh in recent weeks.
The crackdown also sparked allegations of rape and violence from the military. The Myanmar government and military have denied the accusations, saying troops are defending the country from an armed insurgency.
The ongoing crisis has prompted Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to urge Myanmar to hold an inter-faith dialogue to put an end to the conflict.
“We see Myanmar as a very plural country, so is Indonesia; we are also very plural,” she said adding that she has talked to Muslim and Buddhist organisations to promote inter-faith cooperation.
“The State Counsellor — Aung San Suu Kyi highly appreciates the role played by Indonesia to help solve problem in Rakhine.”
Ms Retno met with Ms Suu Kyi on Tuesday in Bali where she expressed Indonesia’s concern over the ongoing crackdown in Rakhine.
“Indonesia hopes that the sitution in Rakhine will return to normal soon, and that the rights of the Muslim community there be respected,” she added.
Indonesia, she said, is willing to extend humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas. Ms Suu Kyi had told Ms Retno that aid will be allowed into the state. AGENCIES