OIC hopes to send team to Myanmar to study Rohingya's plight

AP News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2017 7:13 AM
OIC hopes to send team to Myanmar to study Rohingya's plight

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The Organization of Islamic Cooperation plans to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state to assess the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority, Malaysia said Thursday.

A resolution issued after a special meeting of OIC foreign ministers to discuss the Rohingya crisis urged Myanmar to accept the OIC's visit. It asked Myanmar to implement the rule of law, work toward a sustainable solution, and allow the safe return of refugees and "unimpeded and unconditional access" for humanitarian aid to the affected area.

Rohingya villagers and activists say hundreds of civilians have been killed since October, although figures cannot be verified because authorities have limited access for aid workers and journalists. Recent satellite images show thousands of houses were burned.

Myanmar's army began a crackdown in Rakhine state in October after nine policemen were killed. The security forces are accused of killings, rape and the burning of homes that have driven some 65,000 refugees across the border into Bangladesh in the past three months.

The government and the army say they have been conducting operations to clear the area of armed elements.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said an independent assessment of the situation would help Myanmar's government since it has rejected accusations of widespread abuses against the Rohingya.

"In order to ascertain the reality of it, why not receive an independent team to assess whether what has been said really happened or it is just mere propaganda. In actual fact, it is good for them," Anifah told reporters at the end of Thursday's meeting.

Earlier Thursday, Malaysia said the crisis was no longer Myanmar's internal affair because it has fueled an exodus of refugees that could destabilize the region. Indonesia also offered to be a facilitator to find a solution to the crisis.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, delivering a speech at the meeting, warned that the violence must end, or militants including the Islamic State group could infiltrate and radicalize the Rohingya.

Najib urged Myanmar to stop all discrimination and attacks, and repeated calls for the free delivery of aid and safe return of refugees.

"This must happen now. ... the government of Myanmar disputes the terms 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing,' but whatever the terminology, the Rohingya cannot wait," he said.

Najib said Malaysia will donate another 10 million ringgit ($2.25 million) for humanitarian aid and social projects in Rakhine, where most of the Rohingya have lived for generations. Many have been denied Myanmar citizenship.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on the sidelines of the meeting that Jakarta was "more than ready to play a bridging role" to help Myanmar and its Muslim minority. Marsudi said she will fly to Yangon on Friday to meet with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and plans to travel to Rakhine on Saturday.

OIC Secretary General Yousef Al Othaimeen said Myanmar must halt "ongoing discrimination and the unwarranted systematic abuse against the Rohingya."

A small group of Rohingya gathered at the building where the OIC ministers were meeting and repeated calls for an independent investigation into their plight.