(Reuters) - Malaysia urged Myanmar on Sunday to take stronger action to prevent persecution of Muslims and bring the perpetrators to justice, the latest sign that the inter communal violence is straining ties in Southeast Asia.
Thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to escape the violence and worsening living conditions, many of them making their way by boat or overland to Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Anti-Muslim violence in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar erupted in western Rakhine State last year and has spread into the central heartlands and areas near the old capital, Yangon.
“Myanmar has to address the problem,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told reporters at a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministers in Brunei, making a rare intervention in another member’s internal affairs.
“I know it’s complex but they have to address the problem in a transparent manner so that we can see what actions had been taken ... I think the perpetrators have to be brought to justice and so that it does not occur again.”
Anifah said he had been satisfied by his Myanmar counterpart’s response that the government was taking the issue seriously.
Myanmar Buddhists and Rohingya have clashed in violent incidents in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, adding to concerns that the violence could spill over into the region.
The U.N. refugee agency says about 28,000 Rohingyas are registered as refugees in Malaysia, but groups representing them say the real number of Myanmar Muslim immigrants is much higher and has surged this year because of the violence.
Critics say the Myanmar government has done little to bring instigators of the violence to justice or to stem a growing anti-Muslim movement in the country, which returned to democracy in 2011 after a half century of military rule.
Anifah said the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had voiced concern that ASEAN’s Muslim-majority nations were not doing more to resolve the problem. Malaysia’s Bernama news agency also reported that Anifah had asked Myanmar to allow an OIC contact group to visit the country and be given full cooperation.
Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Jeremy Laurence