KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday sent a ship carrying tonnes of food and emergency supplies to Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, saying their suffering would not be ignored.
Najib has been an outspoken critic of the treatment of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority, calling on the government to stop attacks.
The Myanmar government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied the accusations, saying many reports of violence against Rohingya are fabricated. It insists strife in Rakhine State, where many Rohingya live, is an internal matter.
“This is a historic moment ... a noble effort that shows that all the pain and suffering of Rohingya in Myanmar will not go ignored,” Najib said in a speech at a port near the capital of mostly Muslim Malaysia.
“We hear their pain, those who have been raped, murdered and burned alive.”
Myanmar security forces launched a crackdown in the north of Rakhine State, on the border with Bangladesh, in October after nine policemen were killed in attacks on border posts the government blamed on Rohingya supported by foreign militants.
At least 86 people have been killed and about 66,000 have fled into Bangladesh since then to escape what refugees, residents and human rights groups say have been abuses by Myanmar forces including summary executions and rape.
The 2,200-tonne aid shipment, bound for Myanmar’s biggest city and port of Yangon, has been organized by Malaysian Muslim groups, as well as domestic and foreign aid groups.
The ship is expected to arrive in Yangon on Feb. 9 where it will unload 500 tonnes of supplies, organizers said, before heading to Teknaf port, across the border from Myanmar, where many Rohingya refugees are camped.
At one stage the Malaysian foreign ministry said Bangladesh had denied permission for the ship to dock at Teknaf, casting doubt on where the bulk of the aid could be unloaded.
However, the ministry later released a second statement stating that Bangladesh reversed the decision late Friday evening following a meeting between Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to Malaysia.
“The matter has been resolved as a result of good relations between Malaysia and Bangladesh,” the statement said.
Myanmar has not allowed the ship to sail to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, as organizers had hoped.
Myanmar has also insisted that the aid to be distributed equally to both Buddhist and Muslim communities.
“We are still hoping with all our hearts that they will eventually allow us to visit Sittwe and distribute the aid ourselves,” said the mission chief, Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.
Malaysia has urged the Association of South East Asian Nations to coordinate aid and investigate alleged atrocities committed against the Rohingya, breaking the 10-nation group’s long-standing tradition of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
Myanmar, in turn, has accused Malaysia of exploiting the crisis “to promote a certain political agenda”.
Najib hosted a meeting of representatives from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to discuss the treatment of Rohingya in January and urged Islamic countries to act to end the “humanitarian tragedy”.
Malaysia’s top counter-terrorism official has said Myanmar faces a growing danger of attacks by foreign militants in support of Rohingya.
Rohingya have faced discrimination in Myanmar for generations. They are not classified as a distinct group under citizenship laws and are regarded instead as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, entitled only to limited rights.
The recent violence in the north of Rakhine State is the most serious since communal clashes in 2012 in which hundreds of people were killed.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Robert Birsel and Dominic Evans