Former ambassador tells of persecution faced by Rohingyas

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KAJANG: Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority could become radicalised if they continue to be oppressed by the Myanmar government, a former Malaysian ambassador to the country fears.

Mazlan Muhammad, a retired diplomat who served as Malaysia’s envoy to Myanmar from 2008 to 2012, opened up about the extent of the persecution faced by the Rohingyas to FMT.

“The Rohingyas are confined to the Rakhine state and almost no outsiders are allowed in. When I was an ambassador, there were provisions for us to enter the area but the Myanmar government never allowed us in.”

He said even the Bangladesh ambassador was not allowed to enter the Rakhine state, despite Bangladesh having a consulate in the state.

Mazlan said the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which had a presence in Rakhine, would brief all embassies on the situation in the northern state.

“The Rohingyas face restrictions in moving around from village to village, building and repairing homes and getting married, even if they are marrying a fellow Muslim,” he said.

The extent of the persecution, said Mazlan, pushed the Rohingyas to leave Rakhine state, even if it meant taking a risk with human traffickers.

“They would work hard to pay traffickers large sums of money to bring them out of Rakhine through Bangladesh. They take a big risk putting their lives in the hands of traffickers and travelling to other Asean countries by boat.

“The conditions of these boats are often rickety, and the Rohingyas, including women and children are cramped into these boats, creating cramped and unsanitary conditions.”

Mazlan added that at times the traffickers would ditch the boats, leaving the refugees helpless when they spotted naval ships from Thailand or Malaysia.

Mazlan, who had also served as Malaysia’s ambassador to Iran, New Zealand and Switzerland, said he was concerned that the continued oppression of Rohingyas would lead to Islamic extremism in Myanmar.

“A lot of Rohingya men have left to find a living outside of Rakhine state, so many of those who are there are women and children, and they look to religious leaders for guidance.

“The influence of religious leaders is growing, so if you have radical Islamic religious leaders, just as there are radical Buddhist monks in Myanmar, then radicalisation will start.”

Mazlan said the persecution of Muslims in Rakhine could trigger acts of violence in other parts of Myanmar with Muslim populations.

According to some reports, there are an estimated eight million Muslims in Myanmar, excluding the estimated one million Rohingyas in Rakhine.

In recent weeks, acts of violence against the Rohingyas, reportedly carried out by Myanmar security forces have drawn international condemnation.

According to some reports, hundreds have been killed and raped, and tens of thousands displaced.