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ASEAN head warns about Myanmar unrest

Oct. 30, 2012 at 5:36 AM   |   Comments

JAKARTA, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Myanmar's ethnic unrest, if not settled soon, could destabilize the entire region, warned the head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Speaking in Jakarta, Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the 10-nation ASEAN economic group which includes Myanmar, asked the international community to take a more effective stance on the growing conflict between Myanmar's majority Buddhists and its minority Rohingya Muslims, The Jakarta Post reported.

"They are now under tremendous pressure, pain and suffering," he said, adding if the international community, including the ASEAN, is not able to relieve their pain, it could lead to radicalization and "the entire region could be destabilized, including the Malacca Straits," the Post reported.

He said the region could become a zone of violence that could damage cooperation with the ASEAN and East Asia.

"I think it has wider strategic and security implications," he said. The Malacca Straits are key shipping lanes connecting the Indian and the Pacific oceans.

The sectarian Buddhist-Muslim violence has again gripped Myanmar's western Arakan state, also called Rakhine, home to most the country's minority Rohingya Muslims. The current wave comes after similar violence in May, which left several people dead.

Myanmar was formerly called Burma.

Estimates of the death toll in the latest round that began Oct. 21 have been put as high as 84 with another 22,500 people displaced.

Myanmar's government said on Monday it had boosted security in Rakhine.

CNN quoted the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper that 129 people were injured in the latest violence, while adding no new clashes had been reported since Sunday.

"I am gravely concerned by the fear and mistrust that I saw in the eyes of the displaced people in both communities," Ashok Nigam, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Myanmar, said in a statement after visiting some of the violence-hit areas. "It is critically important that the government ensures that the rule of law prevails."

In a speech to Parliament last week, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi asked authorities to investigate suspected human rights offenses, CNN reported.

Myanmar President Thein Sein has been calling for reconciliation among the country's various ethnic groups as he and his government seek to bring about more democratic reforms.

Since May, several Rohingya families have sought to move to neighboring Bangladesh, whose government says there are several thousand Rohingyas in the country. Many in Myanmar consider the Rohingyas as Bangladeshis.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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