Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai and Muslim countries in Asia led a growing chorus of criticism on Monday aimed at Myanmar and its civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the plight of its Rohingya Muslim minority.
Nearly 90,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh in the past 10 days following an uptick in fighting between militants and Myanmar’s military in strife-torn western Rakhine state. The impoverished region bordering Bangladesh has been a crucible of communal tensions between Muslims and Buddhists for years, with the Rohingya forced to live under apartheid-like restrictions on movement and citizenship.
The recent violence, which kicked off last October when a small Rohingya militant group ambushed border posts, is the worst Rakhine has witnessed in years with the UN saying Myanmar’s army may have committed ethnic cleansing in its response.
De facto leader Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner of Myanmar’s junta, has come under increasing fire over her perceived unwillingness to speak out against the treatment of the Rohingya or chastise the military. She has made no public comment since the latest fighting broke out.
“Every time I see the news, my heart breaks at the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,” Pakistani activist Yousafzai, who famously survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, said in a statement on Twitter. “Over the last several years I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same,” she added. Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan added: “Shameful acceptance of Rohingyas genocide by Aung San Suu Kyi.”
The growing crisis threatens Myanmar’s diplomatic relations, particularly with Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia where there is profound public anger over the treatment of the Rohingya. Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi met Myanmar’s army chief General Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw today in a bid to pressure the government to do more to alleviate the crisis.
“Once again, violence, this humanitarian crisis has to stop immediately,” Indonesian president Joko Widodo told reporters on Sunday as he announced Retno’s mission there. Hours before Widodo spoke, a petrol bomb was thrown at Myanmar’s embassy in Jakarta while police there have previously dismantled two attempts by Islamist militants to bomb the compound.