Escalating violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state deserves the urgent attention of Asean and the international community, Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan told the Bangkok Post Sunday yesterday.
Mr Surin said he is renewing his call for Asean to act, otherwise there is a serious risk that the country's Rohingya population will become radicalised.
Violent clashes between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities have claimed the lives of at least 150 people since June.
In August, Mr Surin sent a letter to all Asean foreign ministers urging them to meet and address the Rohingya issue. The Asean chair, headed by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, called a meeting of the ministers. However, Myanmar refused the meeting and said the situation was under control.
In recent days, a surge of sectarian violence in western Myanmar has left at least 67 people dead and scores more wounded. Authorities have imposed emergency rule in the face of continued tension in the region.
"The situation is deteriorating and there is now a risk of a radicalisation of the Rohingya. This would not be good for anyone," the Asean secretary-general said.
"The conflict has been presented as an Islamic issue when it is not", Mr Surin said. "It is a political, democratic, human rights and constitutional issue, and has direct implications on political reform and national reconciliation processes in Myanmar."
Without an effective resolution, the situation would fester and worsen, Mr Surin said, which could mean a radicalisation of the country's 1.5 million Rohingya.
"This would have wider strategic and security implications for the region," Mr Surin said.
"Can you imagine the Malacca Straits becoming a zone of violence like the waters off Somalia? This would jeopardise East Asian and Southeast Asian economic security," he said.
The Asean secretary-general called for an approach to engagement similar to that adopted in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which left more than 138,000 people dead in Myanmar.
He said the situation needs to be calmed down and put under control.
The United Nations has responded to the recent bloodshed with a stark warning that Myanmar's recent political reforms are under threat from the continued unrest between ethnic Rakhine and the Rohingya.
"The vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric must be stopped," a spokesman for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released yesterday in Yangon. '
"If this is not done ... the reform and opening up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardised."
President Thein Sein has been widely-praised for overseeing sweeping reforms in the former junta-ruled nation. But the Rakhine violence poses a stern challenge to the reform process.
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- Writer: Pichai Chuensuksawadi