Senior government officials yesterday reacted strongly to a suggestion by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that Myanmar should be punished and even expelled from ASEAN for its policies toward the Rohingya.
By Nyan Lynn Aung | Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw told The Myanmar Times that Mr Mahathir’s views, set out in a speech in Kuala Lumpur on June 12, showed the former premier was out of touch with the situation, possibly on the grounds of his age. Mr Mahathir is 89.
ASEAN recognises Myanmar as a member that brings benefits to all in the region, U Thant Kyaw said.
U Hau Khan Sum, director of the ASEAN Affairs Department, said he was surprised by Mr Mahathir’s comments because the former premier understood well the importance of unity in ASEAN and how the regional grouping was moving forward to a peaceful and prosperous community.
“I don’t understand why he spoke like that because Myanmar has been cooperating with all member countries for resolving those problems right now and Myanmar has already stated that no country should be singled out through finger-pointing,” he said.
“As you know, ASEAN does not make decisions without consensus. Therefore, it is impossible to expel Myanmar from ASEAN,” U Hau Khan Sum said.
Mr Mahathir slammed Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in a keynote address at a conference titled “Plight of the Rohingya, Part II Crime Against Humanity” held at Kuala Lumpur’s Islamic Arts Museum.
He said ASEAN countries had throughout the years taken a diplomatic approach in trying to engage Myanmar over the issue. “However, Myanmar has failed to respond to an appeal to be more humane to their own people. If they do not respond, I think they have no right to be recognised as a member of ASEAN,” he said.
Other politicians and commentators noted however that it was Mr Mahathir, then prime minister, who had played a major role in 1997 in pushing for Myanmar’s admittance into ASEAN while the country was under military rule.
U Soe Aung, an activist for the Thailand-based opposition Forum for Democracy in Burma, said ASEAN had made one of its biggest mistakes in admitting Myanmar instead of supporting the country’s democracy movement.
“Now they all are facing the consequences of what they did,” said U Soe Aung. Myanmar’s “deplorable” acts against the Rohingya were a “giant black spot” for ASEAN, he said.
But U Kyaw Lin Oo, an analyst of regional affairs, said Mr Mahathir had been speaking nonsense on the Rohingya issue for a long time. “He should know about Myanmar’s current situation and solution on that issue,” he said.
Mr Mahathir said he had personally sent a letter to opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the Rohingya issue. The National League for Democracy confirmed receiving the letter but said she had not replied.