Don’t expect us to take sides in any war, including in Yemen, says PM

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (centre) receives a token of appreciation at the ‘Stand with Yemen’ event in Kuala Lumpur today. With him are Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail (left) and International Islamic University rector Dzulkifli Abd Razak.

KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya today reaffirmed the country’s non-interference policy, effectively distancing itself from the previous government’s support for the Saudi-led military campaign blamed for causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“We will not take sides in big power rivalries, and neither will we rely on military alliances or strategic partnerships,” said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, citing the policy used by most Asean countries.

In his speech, delivered by Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah here, Mahathir said, without mincing his words, that Malaysia “serves notice” on all countries to respect its non-aligned position.

“Don’t expect us to join you against your rivals and don’t expect us to fight your wars,” he said at the “Stand with Yemen” event. “We will spurn all who come to dominate or divide our region into warring camps,” he said.

In Yemen, Mahathir explained, local differences were allowed to gradually fester into a civil war, which in turn was exploited by outside powers for their own ends.

“While Malaysia is fortunate to have had a strong foundation of national unity, we must not take anything for granted. We must continue to work hard to overcome our racial and religious differences,” he said.

“That is the promise that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government made to the people and we will do our best to make it happen.”

Saifuddin read Mahathir’s speech at the “Stand with Yemen” symposium and photo exhibition being held at the International Institute of Islamic Civilisation & Malay World (Istac) in Taman Duta, Kuala Lumpur.

Since 2015, the Saudis have been backing Yemeni government forces against the Houthi rebels, a predominantly Shia Muslim group.

Malaysian troops were deployed in 2015 but recalled after the new government informed Riyadh that Malaysia would no longer be involved in the war.

The former Barisan Nasional (BN) government had been criticised over its decision to join the Saudi-led coalition to help the Yemeni government, despite saying its role was non-military in nature.

Critics had warned that Malaysia could also be guilty of the mass deaths caused by aerial bombardments of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.

Mahathir today trained his guns at the disunity in the Middle East, questioning where their “sense of Islamic brotherhood and community as followers of the Prophet” was. “Have we no shame?” he asked.

Some of those attending the ‘Stand with Yemen’ symposium and exhibition at the International Institute of Islamic Civilisation & Malay World in Taman Duta, Kuala Lumpur, today.

In Yemen, Mahathir said, Muslims were killing other Muslims. Branding them as guilty of attacking civilians and terrorising civilian populations, Mahathir asked when would they realise that war was not the answer.

He said it was time that Muslims nations turned away from war and started working to uplift the socio-economic well-being of all “our people”, saying thousands were being oppressed and denied their rights.

To that effect, Mahathir proposed that both Yemeni factions in the conflict consider declaring Hodeidah an open city under temporary UN control so that a safe zone could be established for aid to be brought in.

Global aid organisation Save the Children recently revealed that 85,000 infants under the age of five might have died from starvation or disease in the war-ravaged nation since 2015.

Part of the problem has been the inability to get medical and food supplements, following Saudi action to block Hodeida, an entry point for some 80% of food imports and aid into Yemen.

Talking about Malaysia, Mahathir said the country had to be forever vigilant against big power involvement in the region, saying if it was not careful, the same fate that had befallen the Middle East could happen in Malaysia.

“We will be forced to buy ever-increasing amounts of weapons from the big powers so that we can fight each other. Their profits will increase while our region becomes progressively impoverished and unstable.

“Malaysia will work with our friends in Asean to upgrade existing regional frameworks to ensure that we leave no room for big power intervention and to ensure that the growing rivalry between the United States and China does not lead to regional fractures.”

The prime minister, meanwhile, announced that Malaysia would contribute US100,000 (RM407,354.56) to Yemen.

The event is being organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, moderates group G25, vocal Muslim groups Sisters in Islam, the Islamic Renaissance Front, army veterans group National Patriots Association and others.

Karyn Denise Dula Magno contributed to this article.