KUALA LUMPUR: ASEAN secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan said Myanmar’s Rohingya problem should not be regarded as an Islamic issue but one that requires international attention.
He said the Rohingya was an issue of poverty, marginalisation and constitutionalism as they were not recognised as an ethnic group under the Myanmar constitution.
“It is also an issue of democracy, human rights and reconciliation,” he said after delivering his lecture entitled “Raising the Asean Value through the Concept of Global Movement of Moderates”, here, yesterday.
The plight of the Rohingya — an 800,000-strong stateless community based mainly in the Arakan region of Myanmar — has gained extensive international coverage in recent months after ethnic clashes with Rakhine Buddhists broke out in Myanmar last June.
Pitsuwan, who was invited by the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF), said: “I think to present it as Muslims against others or vice-versa is firstly incorrect and risking widening the conflict.
“People under despair, with no hope or sense of security would take the world by surprise and take the opportunity to express their grievances (through extremism) and that would not be good for anyone.”
He asked if they would like to see the Straits of Malacca, for instance, turned into something akin to the waters off Somalia.
Pitsuwan said it was good that the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) were interested in the issue although they were too far away and having enough problems to handle.
“I think it is for the UN and international institutions to come forward in this matter, as far as security, stability and strategy are concerned.”
Pitsuwan said it would be odd for Asean to remain silent, adding: “I have come out to appeal that we look at this issue and try to find a common strategy on this issue with the cooperation and support of the government of Myanmar.
“We can help only if they (Myanmar government) agree. My appeal is that we look at this issue and find a common strategy via a tripartite — Myanmar and UN and Asean effort.
He added that he has written to Myanmar but so far there was no consensus as the Myanmar government had said it was an internal matter which they could solve on their own.
“Asean needs time and our efforts so far are not a total failure as others are listening. But as I said we need a consensus.”
Pitsuwan meanwhile complimented Malaysia for doing a good job in moving the peace agreement between The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Manila.
He said Malaysia was very patient and committed, being part of the moderation movement, and “we should also give credit to Philippines for allowing external parties to help.”
“I hope this sentiment would be repeated in southernThailand.”