NAYPYITAW – The two-day meeting of Asian and European foreign ministers beginning Monday in Myanmar will avoid discussing the Rohingya refugee crisis, according to a draft of the chair’s statement obtained by Kyodo News.
The session of the Asia-Europe Meeting will not directly discuss the crisis involving 600,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled since August from Rakhine state in western Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh, to escape atrocities reportedly being committed by Myanmar security forces.
Instead the ministers will stick to reaffirming their “commitment to combat terrorism and violent extremism” by such means as preventing “misuse of communications technology” to spread terrorist propaganda and violent extremism, according to the draft of the statement to be issued Tuesday.
The Myanmar government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly said the crisis in northern Rakhine state was deliberately provoked by “extremist terrorists” to put international pressure on the government, using the historically complex and politically sensitive issue.
The government has long claimed that the Rohingya, a Muslim community in the overwhelmingly Buddhist nation, are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh or the state of West Bengal in eastern India, and not legitimate citizens of Myanmar even though many have lived there for generations.
The U.N. Security Council earlier this month issued a statement expressing alarm at the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, urging Myanmar authorities to halt the “excessive use” of military force against the Rohingya, and expressing “grave concern” over reported human rights violations and abuses committed by security forces against them.
Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh have told of atrocities committed by security forces, including gang rapes, execution-style killings and the razing of entire villages, leading the United Nations to claim that the situation in Myanmar’s westernmost state appears to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Myanmar authorities have said the military operations in Rakhine are simply aimed at restoring stability and eliminating the threat of “terrorism,” after about two dozen government security posts there were attacked on Aug. 25 by Muslim militants calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Established in 1996, ASEM is a platform for dialogue and cooperation on global issues such as climate change, trade and investment, as well as security challenges related to counterterrorism, migration, maritime security, computerization and modern-day communication technology.
ASEM brings together 51 countries from across Europe and Asia, 30 from Europe and 21 from Asia, which collectively account for 60 percent of the global population as well as the same percentages of the global economy and international trade.
Meetings of the leaders of those 51 countries and of their foreign ministers are held every two years, with the meetings held in alternate years.
On another global issue, the draft said the ministers would “strongly condemn” the test in September of what North Korea claimed was a hydrogen bomb and its multiple ballistic missile launches, and express the need for “a rigorous and effective implementation of sanctions by the United Nations.”
The ministers will also call for North Korea’s “full and immediate compliance” with all U.N. Security Council resolutions related to its weapons development activities, and to refrain from further provocative acts. But it will also reaffirm ASEM’s determination to resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula through “peaceful, diplomatic and political means.”
Regarding the South China Sea, without referring specifically to it, the draft shows the ministers will reaffirm their commitment to promoting maritime security, safety and freedom of global navigation, and of over flights, “in full compliance with the principles of international law, including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
The ministers will also stress the importance of refraining from threatening to use force, peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for state sovereignty and noninterference in the internal affairs of other states as core principles of international law, according to the draft statement.