MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines said Monday it respects Malaysia's decision to dissociate itself from a statement on Myanmar's Rakhine state issued by Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Sunday that Malaysia was dissociating itself from the statement because it misrepresents the reality of the situation, omits reference to Rohingya Muslims as one of the affected communities and was not based on consensus — a rare public spat in ASEAN, which prides itself in its unity and decisions by consensus.
Manila's Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines, as ASEAN chair, issued the statement taking into account sentiments of others in the 10-member regional bloc and after extensive consultation with Malaysia.
"ASEAN is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in the northern Rakhine State and since Malaysia has different views on some issues, out of respect for its position, we decided that instead of a Foreign Ministers Statement, we would issue a Chairman's Statement that would reflect the general sentiments of the other foreign ministers," the DFA said in a statement. ??
As this year's ASEAN Chair, the Philippines is allowed a certain level of flexibility in formulating the ASEAN chairman's statement on various issues, it added.
The ASEAN chairman's statement issued Saturday in New York condemned "the attacks against Myanmar security forces" and "all acts of violence which resulted in loss of civilian lives, destruction of homes and displacement of large numbers of people."
It said the foreign ministers acknowledged that the situation in Rakhine is a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots, and strongly urged all parties involved to avoid actions that will further worsen the situation on the ground.
But Anifah said while Malaysia condemns the Aug. 25 attacks by the insurgent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army against Myanmar security forces, "the subsequent 'clearance operations' efforts by Myanmar authorities was disproportionate in that it has led to deaths of many innocent civilians and caused more than 400,000 Rohingyas to be displaced."
"We express grave concern over such atrocities which have unleashed a full-scale humanitarian crisis that the world simply cannot ignore but must be compelled to act upon," he added.
Myanmar, an ASEAN member, has drawn international condemnation for the military's response to the insurgent attacks. More than 200 Rohingya villages have been burned, hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh and hundreds have been killed; the government says most of the dead were insurgents and has said Rohingya have burned their own homes.
The U.N. has said the actions appear to be ethnic cleansing.