Myanmar’s government has criticized the prime minister of Malaysia for highlighting the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority, who are being persecuted in the Buddhist-majority country.
On Friday, an official at Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry accused Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak of using the Rohingya crisis for “his own political interests.”
Aye Aye Soe, the deputy director of Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, said the Malaysian government criticizes Myanmar “without hesitation based on news reports from different places, including news from unreliable sources, without discussing the issue like a good neighbor.”
“We are deeply sorry about this,” the Myanmar official said, adding that the matter was “against the principles of ASEAN.” He was reference to the two countries’ membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia has been a vocal critic of Myanmar’s government since the country’s army launched a harsh crackdown on the Muslim community in the state of Rakhine, home to about 1.1 million Rohingya, in October 2016. Unidentified militants attacked Myanmar’s army post in Rakhine back then. However, the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar has been ongoing since 2012.
Following the attack, which allegedly left nine police officers dead, Myanmar conducted an internationally condemned military crackdown on the Muslims.
Since the crackdown started, tens of thousands of the Rohingya have fled the region to avoid security forces carrying out a campaign of rape, torture and mass killing.
Najib has described the harsh crackdown on the Muslim community as “genocide.”
On Thursday, at an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Malaysian premier called on Myanmar to end the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims and stop the “unspeakable cruelty” being unleashed against the minority group.
He said Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya is a “stain” on the record of ASEAN.
His criticism of Myanmar marks a rare public spat between ASEAN members, which pride themselves on tolerance and mutual understanding.
Many of Myanmar’s Buddhists name the minority group of Rohingya Muslims as Bengalis, shorthand for illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, even though the community has lived in Myanmar for many generations.
The United Nations has described the Rohingya as one of the most downtrodden communities around the globe.