Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (center L) and Myanmar State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (centre R) attend an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Yangon on Dec.19. The fate of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority took center stage as regional ministers held crisis talks over a security crackdown that has drawn rare criticism from neighboring nations. (Photo by AFP)
Myanmar's state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi held talks with Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Dec. 19 about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine where the Myanmar military has launched a deadly campaign targeting Rohingya Muslims.
At the informal meeting held in Myanmar's commercial capital, Yangon, Suu Kyi agreed to let other nations provide humanitarian assistance to those in need in northern Rakhine where security forces are conducting a large-scale operation following a deadly attack on border police posts on Oct. 9. The attack, in which nine police officers were killed was blamed on militants from the Rohingya minority. Amnesty International has described the subsequent operations by the security forces as "a callous and systematic campaign of violence."
At the meeting, Suu Kyi also promised to regularly update members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc on the crisis.
The meeting was an initiative of Muslim-majority Malaysia who has strongly criticized Myanmar's ill treatment of the Rohingya.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifa Aman said progress has been "slow", especially in improving the basic human rights of the Rohingya in Rakhine. He called for coordinating humanitarian aid into the affected areas and for an investigation into alleged atrocities there.
"We believe that the situation is now of a regional concern and should be resolved together," Anifa told the meeting according to a transcript released by Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Suu Kyi reiterated her government's serious commitment to the resolution of the complex issue and "the need for time and space" for the government's efforts to bear fruit according to a press release from Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Dec. 19.
But the Nobel Peace Laureate has long been criticized for her silence on the issue and events has shown that the military — not the civilian government — is in control of the state, observers have noted.
Kyaw Min, chairman of Yangon-based Rohingya party, Democracy and Human Rights, said that the ASEAN meeting was only a informal gathering to listen to a briefing by Suu Kyi on the crisis so an agreement or a solution was not expected.
"We have no hope and no trust in Suu Kyi and I don't think she is able to solve the Rakhine crisis as she continues to fail to use her moral responsibility of speaking out on the Rohingya issue," Kyaw Min told ucanews.com.
Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya activist from a camp for the internally displaced near Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital, said that ASEAN leaders need to call for an independent commission to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the north of the state.
"The Rakhine crisis is becoming a regional and internationally alarming one so Suu Kyi and ASEAN must organize an independent body," Kyaw Hla Aung told ucanews.com.
Matthew Smith, chief executive director of Bangkok-based rights group Fortify Rights, said ASEAN leaders should insist on "free and unfettered humanitarian access" to all people in need in Rakhine, and for the government to "take steps to restore basic rights."
"Aung San Suu Kyi must demonstrate that she's not complicit in the military's crimes, and that she's part of the solution. Right now, she's not part of the solution," Smith told ucanews.com.
Since security operations began in the north of Rakhine two months ago an estimated 21,000 Rohingya have fled their homes to neighboring Bangladesh whose government does not want to accept them.
Media and local rights groups have reported numerous human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine, including extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, arbitrary arrests, and burning of homes.