Southeast Asian foreign ministers urged Myanmar to prosecute those responsible for a brutal military crackdown against its Muslim Rohingya minority, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told his country’s Parliament on Tuesday.
Due to the political sensitivities surrounding the issue, foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as Asean, met unaccompanied on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday in New York, Balakrishnan said.
“We expressed our grave concern with these alleged acts of violence that have led to loss of life, injuries, destruction of homes, and displacement of large numbers of people,” he said.
An independent inquiry commission established by the government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, should be given a full mandate to investigate and to hold the people responsible fully accountable, the minister told parliament.
An August UN report called for Myanmar’s top generals to be investigated and prosecuted for committing genocide and war crimes against the Rohingya. It found that Myanmar’s security forces had systematically murdered, tortured, gang-raped and enslaved civilian members of the minority, and set fire to entire communities in violation of international law.
“This is a man-made humanitarian disaster, and something which should not be happening in this day and age,” Balakrishnan said.
Last week, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told Turkish international news channel TRT World that his county no longer supports Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya crisis. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has faced global criticism for her failure to stop the violence.
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on four commanders and two military units in Myanmar over their involvement in the alleged ethnic cleansing.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 25 police and army posts, killing a dozen security officials in Rakhine state. The military responded with what it calls “clearance operations.”
Suu Kyi said last September that her government was ready to welcome back those who had been displaced. But Balakrishnan told Parliament that since an agreement was signed a year ago between Myanmar and Bangladesh for the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, “not a single refugee has returned.”
“We’re going to have to wait and see and hope that this will begin shortly,” he said.
Balakrishnan also warned that unless long-term solution was found, the impact of an already complex situation would only widen.
“If this festers it will create more opportunities for extremism, and ultimately terrorism, which will not respect boundaries, and will represent a clear and present threat throughout Southeast Asia and beyond,” he said.