KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will take part in a rare rally to protest a bloody crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, an official from his office said on Tuesday.
The gathering, which will take place in an yet-to-be announced location on Sunday, will involve politicians, NGOs and “all concerned with the issue” the official told Agence France-Presse, without giving further details.
Last Friday, Malaysia summoned the Myanmar ambassador while around 500 Malaysians and Rohingya marched through a heavy tropical downpour from a Kuala Lumpur mosque to Myanmar’s embassy carrying banners denouncing the Rakhine “genocide.”
Muslim-majority Malaysia’s Cabinet also issued a statement last week condemning the violence, an unusually strong criticism against a fellow member of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations that has a policy of non-interference in member states.
“The major gathering on December 4 is to express our concern over the violence taking place on the Rohingya,” Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail Online on Tuesday.
Chong Ja Ian, a political analyst from the National University of Singapore, said Najib’s appearance at such a rally will be “odd.”
“During last year’s migrant crisis, there was criticism but it was oblique and not to this level,” he said.
The discovery last year of human-trafficking camps — and scores of nearby graves — first in Thailand and then over the border in Malaysia caused shock and revulsion in Southeast Asia.
The camps are believed to have been used by people-smuggling syndicates who move large numbers of impoverished Rohingya out of Myanmar, where they face systematic repression, with most heading for Malaysia.
Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia politics expert with Turkey’s Ipek University, said the planned gathering was “purely a political exercise” for Malaysian leaders.
“These leaders are desperately trying to show their Islamic credentials as they are losing moral legitimacy at home,” she said.
Violence in Rakhine — home to the stateless ethnic group loathed by many of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority — has surged in the last month after security forces poured into the area following a series of attacks on police posts blamed on local militants.
A United Nations official has said Myanmar is engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims, as reports emerged of troops shooting at villagers as they tried to flee.
But Myanmar’s new civilian government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has rejected the allegations.