The Jakarta Post
Myanmar President Thein Sein has asked Indonesia to help his government in resolving ongoing ethnic tensions in the country’s western Rakhine state, where more than 110,000 people, the vast majority of them Muslims known as Rohingya, have been displaced.
“Myanmar invited us to help them [in resolving the Rohingya problem], with the President [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] indicating his willingness to help in due time,” presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said after a meeting between Thein Sein and Yudhoyono on the sidelines of the 21st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.
Yudhoyono underlined that the problem had to be well resolved since it had attracted international attention, noting that the issue was a communal conflict, not a religious clash as portrayed to the general public.
Therefore, Indonesia together with Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia have tried to portray the issue proportionally.
“We must give them a kind of support or understanding in a sense that this is not related to religion,” Faizasyah said.
Besides efforts to end the conflict, Thein Sein said that Myanmar’s government had launched various programs to alleviate suffering and for community building and reconstruction measures involving a huge amount of money.
The social problems in Rakhine were indeed very complex, and included education, Thein Sein added.
“Therefore, Myanmar hopes that Indonesia can invest in the Rakhine State to create more jobs. There are complex problems there,” he said.
Thein Sein, who has orchestrated much of his country’s transition to democracy, has opened the door to any party who wants to visit, investigate and observe the situation.
Thein Sein has blamed nationalist and religious extremists for the unrest in June and October that killed at least 167 people, but has faced criticism for failing to address underlying tensions in the Rakhine state, where an estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are not recognized as citizens.
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan warned that the problem should be handled effectively. “Eight hundred thousand people are now under tremendous pressure. If that issue is not handled well and effectively, there is a risk of radicalization. There is a risk of extremism,” he said in Phnom Penh.
The United Nations said on Friday that Thein Sein had sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promising action to tackle the problems.
In a statement, Ban’s office said Thein Sein had promised that “once emotions subside on all sides”, his government was prepared to “address contentious political dimensions, ranging from resettlement of displaced populations to granting of citizenship”.
Aside from the Rohingya, during the meeting, Yudhoyono also highlighted the recent developments in Myanmar, saying that its transformation process was on the right track.
Indonesia consistently supported Myanmar when the country, which was previously known as Burma, started its reform process. Myanmar also appreciated Indonesia’s support all this time, including during the process when they were having difficulties.