Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak warned that militant groups such as Islamic State may seek to recruit members from the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims affected by ethnic violence in Myanmar.
Sharing a stage with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi at a regional counter-terrorism conference in Sydney on Saturday, Razak said the turmoil in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was a security threat to Southeast Asia. The crisis can “no longer be considered to be a purely domestic matter,” he said.
The situation is creating a crisis in which “thousands of despairing and exacted people, who see no hope in the future, will be a fertile ground for radicalization and recruitment of Daesh, by Daesh and affiliated groups,” Najib said, referring to an alternative name for the insurgent Islamic group.
At least 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh since August last year when militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 25 police and army posts, killing about a dozen security officials.
The military responded with what it calls "clearance operations," with reports of security forces and Buddhist vigilantes indiscriminately attacking the Rohingya and burning their villages. In November, then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing.”
“We must be vigilant and increase our collaboration, because the collapse of Daesh core territories in Iraq and Syria has forced it to go underground and reemerge elsewhere, especially in crisis zones where it could grow and operate,” Najib said.