Indonesia offers to be Muslim world's mediator in Rohingya crisis

Organization of Islamic Cooperation lends support for Jakarta to take active role in trying to end Rakhine violence
Indonesia offers to be Muslim world's mediator in Rohingya crisis

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's Rakhine State wait for aid at Kutupalong refugee camp in the Bangladeshi town of Teknaf Sept. 5. About 350,000 mostly Rohingya refugees have fled a fresh upsurge of violence in Myanmar since Aug. 25. (Photo by K M Asad/AFP)

Jakarta is ready to represent Muslim nations and act as a mediator to help resolve the crisis faced by the ethnic Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar's Rakhine State, according to Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 1st Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit of Science and Technology on Sept. 10 in Astana, Kazakhstan, he said the organization "wishes to invite Indonesia to work together [with concerned parties] to help end the violence."

Indonesia has easier access to Myanmar than other Muslim nations since "the Indonesian government can communicate with Myanmar's authorities at any time," he said.

Indonesia would likely focus on implementing the "4+1 Formula" plan put forward by Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, who met Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi last week.

The plan involves restoring stability and security as well as exercising self-restraint and the non-use of violence.

According to reports, more than 350,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar — mostly to Bangladesh — since violence erupted last month after a series of deadly attacks by Rohingya militants against Myanmar police posts.

Myanmar's military says around 400 people have been killed in Rakhine State, but observers fear the death toll is much higher.

Indonesia is one of many Muslim countries to have voiced anger at Myanmar's treatment of up to 1.3 million Rohingya. 

Last week, President Joko Widodo stressed the need for taking concrete action and sent Marsudi to Myanmar to discuss aid for Rakhine State and the construction of a hospital there beginning in October.  

The move received backing from local Muslim leaders. 

Anwar Abbas, secretary-general of the Indonesian Ulema Council, told on Sept. 11 that Indonesia has taken positive steps "so that Aung San Suu Kyi understands the aspirations of Muslims in Indonesia and around the world."

"As a predominantly Muslim country, Indonesia's voice will surely be heard," he said, believing that Indonesia will play a significant role in dealing with the crisis.     

Helmy Faishal Zaini, secretary general of Nahdlatul Ulama, or the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, said his organization "is ready to work together with the government in creating peace for the Rohingya."

 Indonesian lawmakers have called on the government to do all it can to end the violence. 

"We are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale unlike anything we have seen before unfold in Rakhine State. … We cannot sit by and watch these atrocities occur in our own backyard," said Eva Kusuma Sundari, a lawmaker who also serves as a board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

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Indonesia must recognize the Rohingya community's suffering will only cease when Myanmar security forces halt their attacks, she said.

"Indonesia needs to fulfill its role as a regional leader by having this issue put on the ASEAN agenda as a fundamental matter of regional peace and security."


Muslim nations' responses

Besides Indonesia, OIC member states including Bangladesh and Malaysia have expressed grave concern over the "systematic brutal acts" perpetrated by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya.

In a statement issued on Sept. 10, they said the crisis "constitutes a serious and blatant violation of international law" and called upon the Myanmar government "to accept the U.N. Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into all alleged international human rights law violations and to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Bangladeshi President M. Abdul Hamid, addressing the OIC summit, stressed the need to protect the Rohingya. According to him, his nation "has given shelter to Rohingya community on humanitarian grounds."

He said the crisis "directly affected" Bangladesh as the atrocities in Myanmar were forcing victims to flee to Bangladesh. 

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters earlier that no mercy is being given to the Rohingya.

"They are tortured, discriminated against, killed and raped," Najib said, promising that Malaysia will do whatever it can to help. 

Meanwhile, Indonesia sent humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh to escape the violence in Myanmar.

Four Hercules transport planes packed with 34 tons of aid left from an air force base in East Jakarta on Sept. 13. The aid included rice, instant meals, family kits, tents, water tanks and blankets.

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