Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has called fellow ASEAN foreign ministers to a briefing over the ongoing crackdown in Rakhine State amid mounting international pressure and public spats with some neighbouring countries.
The informal meeting on December 19 in Yangon will be an opportunity for ASEAN member states to air their concerns and get a better understanding of the situation in Rakhine State, said Daw Aye Aye Soe, a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson. She added that invitations were sent to member countries on December 9, but as of yesterday, none of the other nine ASEAN nations had replied.
“This is one of the mechanisms of ASEAN. A Foreign Ministerial Retreat Meeting can be called by any of ASEAN’s foreign ministers,” Daw Aye Aye Soe told The Myanmar Times. “The agenda has not been published and we don’t know exactly what kind of shape the meeting will take, but one thing we can expect is that since the Rakhine issue is lately a hot topic among ASEAN members, the issue will be brought to the meeting and Myanmar plans to respond to concerns.”
The meeting represents a change of tack by the Myanmar government, which has until now steadfastly insisted that the military campaign and treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority population are “internal affairs”. But the unprecedented briefing announcement comes as diplomats and humanitarian groups have dialled up criticism and expressions of concern as the security operation enters its third month.
According to a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), humanitarian activities in impoverished northern Rakhine State remain suspended since the October 9 attacks and subsequent violence. Food rations have not been delivered to 130,000 people, including malnourished children. The spokesperson added that around 30,000 people in Maungdaw township have been newly displaced by the conflict, with 22,000 Muslims from the area fleeing to Bangladesh since November 1.
Earlier this month, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak broke with the long-maintained ASEAN principle of non-interference to call out Myanmar, with his office accusing the government of engaging in “ethnic cleansing”. Malaysia has also called for Myanmar’s ASEAN membership to be reviewed in the wake of the crisis.
Fellow Muslim-majority nation Indonesia took a more diplomatic approach by flying to Nay Pyi Taw to privately express concerns.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, an ASEAN analyst, said the upcoming foreign ministers’ briefing is the outcome of discussions between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on December 6. The following weekend during a conference in Bali, Myanmar conveyed its decision to call the gathering of ASEAN foreign ministers.
Mr Kavi added that the meeting is aimed at alleviating pressure on Myanmar from fellow ASEAN members, as well as unifying the regional grouping.