Indonesia Calls for Independent Rohingya Probe

By Jakarta Globe 7 August 2012

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asked Burmese President Thein Sein in a letter to quickly solve the deadly conflicts between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims and called on his Southeast Asian neighbor to accept international observers to review the situation in the conflict zone.

Yudhoyono’s first statement on the issue on Saturday, following weeks of mounting calls from human rights activists, legislators and students for Indonesia to take a role in finding a solution, received a mixed reaction from observers.

Some claim that Yudhoyono is trying to find a balance between asserting Indonesia’s leadership in the region and preserving the momentum of Burma’s democratic reforms. Others argue that the president should meet Thein Sein immediately rather than merely send letters.

Burma and Indonesia are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Indonesia says it has been instrumental in pushing the former Burmese junta to embrace democracy.

In a measured statement during a news conference at his private residence in Cikeas, Bogor, Yudhoyono first said that there had been no indication of genocide of Rohingya. He then expressed Indonesia’s hope that Burma would stop the attacks against the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in the country’s western Arakan (Rakhine) State.

“My letter to Myanmar President Thein Sein expresses Indonesia’s hope that the Myanmar government will solve the Rohingya problem in the best way,” he said.

The president asked Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to continue Indonesia’s active diplomacy so that Burma would allow representatives from the United Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Asean to enter the conflict zone to find what really happened.

“My hope is that the OIC, UN, Asean, Indonesia and Myanmar can cooperate to find the best solution,” he said.

Predominantly Buddhist Burma does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, saying they migrated from Bangladesh during British colonial rule. Bangladesh has also disavowed the group, saying it is Burma’s problem.

Amnesty International has reported that hundreds of Rohingyas have been killed, raped, beaten and arbitrarily arrested since Burma declared a state of emergency in northern Arakan State, on the border with Bangladesh.

Yudhoyono said Indonesia could offer Burma expertise in solving conflicts between the Buddhists and Muslims because the country had ample experience in dealing with clashes between Muslims and Christians, such as in Ambon and Poso, Central Sulawesi.

“Just like when we dealt with communal conflict in Poso, Ambon and Aceh, we didn’t want foreign involvement in the cases. We also rejected allegations that we did not protect the minority. I think Myanmar can hear the criticism and act justly,” the president said.

Haris Azhar, a prominent human rights activist and coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), however, suggested that the president should meet directly with Thein Sein.

Ahmad Qisai, an expert from the Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, said Indonesia’s involvement in resolving this situation could boost its image.

Makmur Keliat of the University of Indonesia said Yudhoyono’s statement was only aimed at appeasing the public and the domestic media.