ASEAN offers Myanmar humanitarian assistance for Rakhine

YANGON: The 10-member Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday (Dec 19) offered Myanmar humanitarian assistance, stressing that aid be distributed to those affected in northern Rakhine state.

Speaking after a closed-door meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers, ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said that “we need to help Myanmar overcome this challenge”.

He added that it was a “mood of solidarity, unity and consensus on the need to help Myanmar overcome the situation in Rakhine state”, and that the bloc “will keep on discussing how to help the country”.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Myanmar’s foreign ministry said the country’s foreign minister and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi briefed her counterparts on the “recent developments in northern Rakhine state” following the Oct 9 attacks.

Myanmar called for the meeting, wanting to provide information on the nation’s efforts to address the issue, including the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Suu Kyi, in the statement, reiterated Myanmar’s “serious commitment to the resolution of the complex issue and the need for time and space for the government’s efforts to bear fruit.”

Myanmar had previously said the Rohingya problem in Rakhine was a domestic issue and that others shouldn’t interfere.

Its handling of the issue was criticised by countries like Malaysia, whose foreign minister Anifah Aman reportedly told the meeting that the situation was now of “regional concern”.

Singapore’s foreign minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan told Channel NewsAsia that the Rakhine issue was a domestic one but that there may be “regional implications” if there is instability there.

He said: “It provides a fertile ground for terrorist groups to engage or embed themselves and that’s not good for all of us. Secondly, if there are refugees and there are transboundary effects, then it becomes a regional issue.”

However, Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that the key point is that the “primary responsibility for resolving this must lie with the local government and it’s the duty of the ASEAN counterparts” to support Myanmar.”

The Singapore minister said the issue illustrates how race, language and religion are “live issues” throughout Southeast Asia and “always in danger of being exploited and we must be careful not to make things worse”.

Suu Kyi said she believes this meeting will help strengthen ASEAN unity and resolve the “differences among ASEAN family members through peaceful and friendly consultations”.

Myanmar gave the assurance that it would keep ASEAN members “ïnformed of developments in Rakhine state”.

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