Asian leaders want Myanmar to end sectarian violence

Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:19am EST
 
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By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Southeast Asian leaders will put pressure on Myanmar to resolve violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims, a senior regional official said on Sunday, after unrest left scores dead and as many as 100,000 people displaced since June.

Myanmar President Thein Sein has blamed nationalist and religious extremists for unrest in June and October that killed at least 167 people, but has faced criticism for failing to address underlying tensions in Rakhine State, where an estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are not recognized as citizens.

"Eight hundred thousand people are now under tremendous pressure," Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), told reporters on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

"If that issue is not handled well and effectively, there is a risk of radicalization, there is a risk of extremism," he said.

Surin said he expected ASEAN leaders to raise the issue with Myanmar, which is a member of the bloc, during bilateral talks. The leaders were committed to reducing internal conflicts as the group moves towards economic integration by 2015, he said.

After a week of violence in June killed at least 80 people in two townships, unrest in late October spread across much of the state. Witnesses said mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists attacked Muslim villages with petrol bombs, swords and guns.

Nearly 4,700 homes were destroyed in 42 villages, according to government data compiled by U.N. agencies.

A Reuters investigation painted a troubling picture of organized attacks led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks and, some witnesses said, abetted by local security forces.   Continued...

 
Myanmar's President Thein Sein attends a session of the 21st ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh November 18, 2012. REUTERS/Samrang Pring