YANGON: Myanmar has called an emergency Asean meeting to discuss the Rohingya crisis, a diplomat said Monday, as regional tensions deepen over a bloody military crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority.
More than 20,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh over the past two months, fleeing a military campaign in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
Their stories of mass rape and murder at the hands of security forces have galvanised protests in Muslim nations around the region, with Buddhist-majority Myanmar facing diplomatic pressure from its neighbours.
Last week Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lashed out at Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for allowing “genocide” on her watch, speaking before thousands of angry protesters in Kuala Lumpur.
Myanmar, which has vehemently denied the accusations, responded by angrily summoning Malaysia’s ambassador and banning its workers from going to the country.
A diplomatic source in the Philippines confirmed Myanmar had invited them for an emergency ASEAN meeting to discuss “the Rohingya issue”.
The source declined to give more details on the meeting, which the Nikkei reported would be held in Yangon on December 19. Myanmar officials could not be reached for comment.
The bloodshed presents the biggest challenge to Nobel Peace prize winner Suu Kyi since her party won the country’s first democratic elections in a generation last year.
Last week the UN’s special adviser on Myanmar criticised her handling of the crisis, saying it had “caused frustration locally and disappointment internationally”.
Suu Kyi also held talks over Rakhine with the foreign minister of Indonesia, after cancelling a visit to the country in November following protests and an attempted attack on the Myanmar embassy.
State media report almost 100 people have been killed — 17 soldiers and 76 suspects — in the army operation in Rakhine that followed deadly raids on police border posts on October 9.
That includes six suspects who died during interrogations, the Global New Light of Myanmar said on Saturday, out of some 575 people who have been detained.
Advocacy groups put the death toll in the hundreds, but foreign journalists and independent investigators have been barred from visiting the area to verify the figures.
With the crisis showing no sign of abating, the government over the weekend extended a 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew across the locked-down area for another two months.