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Asean considers humanitarian aid for Myanmar Muslims

Southeast Asian nations are considering humanitarian assistance for Muslim-minority Rohingya facing "pain and suffering" in the country.

JAKARTA // Southeast Asian nations are considering humanitarian assistance for Muslim-minority Rohingya facing "pain and suffering" in Myanmar, the head of the Asean regional bloc said today.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said the bloc should be "part of solution to the problem" that escalated in June with a bloody clash that displaced around 60,000 people, mostly Rohingya.

"I have made a proposal [to our member countries] that Asean should once again offer humanitarian assistance, like we did during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis four-and-a-half years ago," Mr Surin said, referring to a storm which left 138,000 people dead or missing in Myanmar in May 2008.

"Individual member states of Asean are also making their own efforts to help relieve the pain and the suffering of the Rohingya," he said, without specifying in which country the aid would be delivered.

He said the offer to assist the Rohingya had garnered support from several Asean members and that Indonesia and Malaysia, both Muslim-majority nations, had also offered to directly assist the Rohingya.

Around 80 people, both Buddhists and Rohingya, were killed during the June violence in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, according to official figures, while rights groups claim higher death tolls.

"Myanmar becoming the chair of the Asean will be the focus of the attention of how it is handling such an issue. There must be some road map to the solution", Surin said on the sidelines of Asean's 45th anniversary celebrations.

"Asean cannot be perceived to be standing by without taking any action on such a big scale of humanitarian difficulty," he added.

Bangladesh last week banned three international agencies from providing assistance to Rohingya refugees who had fled from neighbouring Myanmar.

Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless, and they are viewed by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Myanmar's government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

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