Ethnic Rohingya Muslim refugees shout slogans during a gathering in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 4, 2016, protesting the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. - AFP
YANGON: Myanmar has banned workers from going to Muslim-majority Malaysia as relations sour between the neighbours over a military crackdown on the Buddhist country's Rohingya minority.
The move came after Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak lashed out at Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for allowing "genocide" on her watch, during a rally on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur that drew thousands of people.
The crowd was protesting against a military crackdown in Myanmar's western Rakhine state that has pushed more than 20,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.
Survivors have told AFP horrifying stories of gang rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar security forces, while dozens have died trying to cross the river that separates the two countries.
The recent crisis has galvanised protests in Muslim countries around the region, including Malaysia.
"We want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough... We must and we will defend Muslims and Islam," Najib said at Sunday's 5,000-strong rally. "The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place."
A Malaysian government minister has also called for a review of Myanmar's membership inside the Asean bloc.
Myanmar officials have denied the allegations of abuse and Ms Suu Kyi has told the international community to stop stoking the "fires of resentment".
Late on Tuesday, Myanmar's immigration ministry said it had ceased issuing new licences for its nationals to work in Malaysia, which for years has been a top destination for migrant labour.
"Myanmar has temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia from 6/12/2016 because of the current situation in Malaysia," it said in a statement, without elaborating.
Malaysia already hosts tens of thousands of Myanmar workers, most of whom take on low-paying jobs in factories or in the food and hospitality industries.
According to Malaysia, some 56,000 Rohingya have arrived on its shores in recent years, many taking perilous boat journeys to flee poverty and discrimination in Rakhine state.
But on Tuesday, former UN chief Kofi Annan, who heads a commission on troubled Rakhine, told reporters he thought the crisis would not split the region apart.
"I think it can be contained. There is a possibility here to contain what is going on," he told a news conference in Yangon at the end of a week-long visit. -AFP