07/31/2012, 00.00
INDONESIA - MYANMAR
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Pressure on Jakarta to help stop the Rohingya boat people crisis

by Mathias Hariyadi
Indonesian and international groups call on the Indonesian government to become actively involved in the crisis. The foreign minister shows "empathy" for fellow Muslims, but NU leader slams the government for its inertia vis-à-vis the ethnic cleansing visited upon the Burmese minority. Hundreds of refugees reach Indonesian shores.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesian Muslim organisations and international agencies have appealed to the Indonesian government to deal with the problem of Rohingya refugees who have arrived in the country. Fleeing government repression in Myanmar, hundreds of ethnic Rohingya have become new boat people. In Rakhine State, persecution has turned into a spiral of violence between minority Muslims and majority Buddhists. Dozens of Rohingya refugees have reached Indonesian shores with the exodus showing no signs of abating; however, this has not raised any concerns among Indonesian authorities and residents. Indeed, official figures may even hide the real extent of the problem.

A spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Julian Aldrin Pasha, said that the Indonesian government would hold intensive talks with Myanmar in the near future to solve the matter. The aim is to show "empathy" towards fellow Muslims in Myanmar.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that Indonesian is closely monitoring sectarian violence affecting Burmese Rohingya.

A few days ago, Slamet Effendy Jusuf, head of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the most important Indonesian Muslim organisation, slammed Jakarta for its inertia towards what he describes as ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Similarly, an extremist Muslim group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), warned that it would attack Myanmar out of revenge for the "crimes" committed against Rohingya Muslims. In its statement, the TTP sought to present itself as the defender of all Muslims, men and women, and pledged to "take revenge of your blood".

In June, the District Court in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine State, sentenced three Muslim to death, after they were found guilty in the rape and killing in late May of Thida Htwe, a young Arakanese Buddhist, sparking violent sectarian clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.

Soon after, an angry mob killed ten Muslims on a bus who were totally unconnected to the violence.

The spiral of hatred has resulted in unrest that left 29 people dead, 16 Muslims and 13 Buddhists, as well as 38 wounded. According to official sources, at least 2,600 homes were also set on fire.

The violence caused a virtual exodus of the Muslim minority. Hundreds of Rohingya men, women and children fled by sea to the shores of Bangladesh and Thailand, where they were turned back.

According to the Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, the number of refugees who have landed in Indonesia should be around 270. An additional 124 received refugee status from the UN High Commission for Refugees.

However, these two groups could be the tip of the iceberg, with hundreds more having made their way to the country illegally as a first step before going Australia, their expected final destination.

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