JAKARTA (AFP) - Southeast Asian nations are considering humanitarian assistance for Muslim-minority Rohingya facing “pain and suffering” in Myanmar, the head of the ASEAN regional bloc said Wednesday.
“I have made a proposal (to our member countries) that ASEAN should once again offer humanitarian assistance, like we did during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis four-and-a-half years ago,” Surin told reporters, referring to a storm which left 138,000 people dead or missing in Myanmar in May 2008.
“Individual member states of ASEAN are also making their own efforts to help relieve the pain and the suffering of the Rohingya,” he said, without specifying in which country the aid would be delivered.
He said the offer to assist the Rohingya had garnered support from several ASEAN members and that Indonesia and Malaysia, both Muslim-majority nations, had also offered to directly assist the Rohingya.
Around 80 people, both Buddhists and Rohingya, were killed during the June violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, according to official figures, while rights groups claim higher death tolls.
“Myanmar becoming the chair of the ASEAN will be the focus of the attention of how it is handling such an issue. There must be some roadmap to the solution”, Surin said on the sidelines of ASEAN’s 45th anniversary celebrations.
“ASEAN cannot be perceived to be standing by without taking any action on such a big scale of humanitarian difficulty,” he added.
Bangladesh last week banned three international agencies from providing assistance to Rohingya refugees who had fled from neighbouring Myanmar.
Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless, and they are viewed by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Myanmar’s government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu left Wednesday to observe the situation in Myanmar, from where he said Turkey was receiving “conflicting information” regarding deadly religious violence. “The administration (in Myanmar) says the deaths are around a hundred... but the Muslim leaders in Rakhine, with whom we have been in contact, say the deaths reach thousands,” Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara before his departure.
Davutoglu is taking along medical supplies and donations collected by Turkey’s Red Crescent to deliver to “probably more than 50,000 Muslims and 20,000 Buddhists” who have been displaced from their homes by the conflict.
Meanwhile, the United States on Tuesday called on Bangladesh to allow non-governmental organisations to continue providing aid to members of a minority group who have fled to Bangladesh to get away from violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“The United States is deeply concerned by the Government of Bangladesh’s stated intent to shut down non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have been providing critical humanitarian aid to Rohingya residing in Bangladesh,” US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement.
Ventrell said the US continues to monitor the tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and has urged the government of Myanmar to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict.