BANGKOK, June 23 — An independent international community should monitor the repatriation of the Rohingya back to Myanmar to ensure they are not punished, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.
Dr Mahathir said he brought up the issue of the Rohingya crisis during the 34th Asean Summit chaired by Thailand’s Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan o-Cha, as it was an important matter to be raised.
“I spoke about the Rohingya crisis, the report (Rohingya refugees repatriation report) did not take into consideration the feedbacks of the migrants and refugees.
“The refugees’ opinions must be taken into consideration because they are scared to go back to the Rakhine state.
“We hope when they return back to Myanmar, the international community can supervise and ensure that when they return to Rakhine state and Myanmar, they are not punished,” he said during a press conference with the Malaysian media here.
Dr Mahathir, when asked about meeting Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, simply said: “She was sitting just beside me, because of the alphabetical order she sat beside me and was even eating beside me.”
He did not comment if he had any personal conversation with Suu Kyi during the summit.
“The one that spoke about the Rakhine state issue was Indonesia, that’s the only subject Indonesia spoke about. I brought up many issues as usual,” he said jokingly.
Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah yesterday said that one of the main issues brought up by Malaysia during the 34th Asean Summit and Related Summits was the Rohingya crisis.
He said the three important matters raised by Malaysia was bringing the perpetrators to justice, the proper deportation of Rohingyas, and the commitment to increase humanitarian efforts.
Dr Mahathir had always vowed to help Rohingya Muslims seeking refuge in Malaysia, reiterating the call for South-east Asian leaders to “stop the oppression” of the stateless minority group expelled from Myanmar.
Last year, he chastised Myanmar civilian leader Suu Kyi during the Asean meet in Singapore for defending the military’s crackdown on the Rohingya.
The Rohingya crisis has spun out across the region, with desperate Rohingya taking to boats bound for Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
In recent weeks, scores of Rohingya have boarded vessels for Malaysia raising fears of a renewed trafficking route, various media reports have claimed.
Myanmar refuses to grant them citizenship or basic rights, and refers to them as “Bengali”, inferring that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.