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Indonesia presses for end to violence against Rohingya Muslims

Local people dismantle the remains of a destroyed mosque in Sittwe, in Burma’s Rakhine state, in June 2012. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Burma to prevent further violence against Rohingya Muslims, during a state visit in late April. [AFP/Human Rights Watch]

Okky Feliantiar
Khabar South Asia:
May 1, 2013

During a state visit to Burma, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urges resolution of communal violence there, and says Indonesia is ready to help.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged the government of Burma to prevent further violence against Rohingya Muslims before the tensions infect other countries in the region.

SBY, as the president is commonly referred to, delivered the message during an April 23rd-24th state visit to Burma. “My visit to Burma is to encourage some change, encouraging the democratisation process, development and law enforcement in Burma,” he told reporters in Jakarta before the trip.

The visit came about a month after the latest wave of communal violence, which erupted in the central Burmese town of Meiktila, State media in Burma put the death toll at 43.

“I will encourage Burma to manage the situation wisely and appropriately to prevent tension and violence. We in Indonesia are ready to give support to achieve these goals,” SBY subsequently told a forum in Singapore, as quoted by the Straits Times.

“If it is not resolved in the best way, the impact is bad for Burma and even the Muslim-majority Indonesia,” he said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who accompanied the president to Burma, said Yudhoyono and Burmese President Thein Sein “also discussed [Burma’s] widely praised democratic reforms”.

Speaking to reporters at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Brunei, just after theBurma visit, Marty said Indonesia was confident that Burma’s government “is trying to do the right thing in terms of getting the communal conflict under control”.

Rohingya persecution creates refugee crisis

The visit coincided with the April 22nd publication of a report by Human Rights Watch describing “a campaign of ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in Burma beginning in June 2012. More than 200 people have been killed, and more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been forcibly displaced, it said.

The Rohingya have been subjected to crimes against humanity including murder, persecution, deportation, and forcible transfer, the report charged, alleging that Burmese officials were complicit in the crimes. The Burmese government denies the charges.

Many Rohingya have fled Burma by sea, seeking refuge in other Asian countries, including Indonesia where they now form the third largest population of asylum-seekers, after Afghans and Iranians, according to the Straits Times.

The conflict briefly reproduced itself on Indonesian soil in early April, at an immigrant detention centre near Medan, where Rohingya Muslim refugees attacked and killed eight Burmese Buddhists being held there for illegal fishing in Indonesian waters.

Experts: conflicts can reverberate in region

The conflict in Burma is not merely an ethnic conflict, said Salim Hussein, a 37-year-old Jakarta resident originally from Solo, in Central Java.

“To me, what is happening in Burma is more than ethnic conflict; it is genocide. Solo once experienced an ethnic conflict around 1997-2000 between Chinese and Javanese. However, the conflict was triggered by economic factors rather than religious ones. I think the conflict in Burma is more serious than that,” he told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Salim applauded SBY’s diplomatic efforts on the issue. “Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Of course, we care about what is going in Burma. Indonesian Muslims are always sympathetic with the current situation in Burma,” he said. “SBY’s speech is clever, as it not only encourages Burma but also reduces the risk of violence in Indonesia.”

Fauzan, a professor at National Development University (UPN) in Yogyakarta (UPN), said the long-running conflict between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhists in Burma illustrates how communal tensions can ricochet around the region.

Once, he said, an ethnic Rohingya family’s tearoom was attacked by a group of monks angry because Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

Muhammad Gandhi Siagian, head of the Joint Forum of Religion and Da’wah (FB) in Medan, Sumatra, said Indonesia should help the Rohingya Muslim refugees here and back in Burma.

“We sincerely hope that the president will protect and defend Rohingya Muslims. This can be done by issuing various policies on behalf of the Indonesian government,” he told Khabar.