As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks on his first-ever bilateral state visit to Myanmar from September 5-7, the Rohingya issue will figure in his talks with the Myanmar’s top leadership.
Sriprya Ranganathan, Joint Secretary in India’s External Affairs Ministry heading the Bangladesh-Myanmar desk, told the media here on Friday that the spiral in violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine province and the exodus of people from there will figure in Modi’s talks with Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Our New Delhi correspondent quoted her as saying: “We will be discussing how India can help them in addressing the situation that is prevailing in the (Rakhine) state.”
Ranganathan disagreed with a questioner if New Delhi is viewing the Rohingya problem only through a security prism and suggested a holistic view of the issue by also including developmental and humanitarian aspects.
“It is a fact that the situation in Rakhine state has variety of aspects. It has a developmental aspect, it has a humanitarian aspect and it has security aspects. All aspects have been correctly highlighted by the Kofi Annan committee in their report recently submitted. We are not by any means diminishing any of the aspects. They are all relevant, important,” she said.
The senior MEA official said that India has “reached out Myanmar government after that (attack) on what is state of play and what can be done”.
Modi’s forthcoming visit to Myanmar comes as violence broke out afresh in Rakhine province forcing thousands of Rohingya Muslims to seek shelter in neighbouring Bangladesh. Many of them drowned as they attempted to cross the border river in makeshift boats.
The fresh influx of Rohingyas followed the attack by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine on August 26.
On August 24, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state, chaired by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, submitted its final report on how to deal with the Rohingya issue.
“It is a fairly elaborate report with exhaustive recommendations. We are told by Myanmar government that they are giving very careful and positive consideration to the recommendations in the report,” Ranganathan said.
“We will be discussing how India can help them in addressing the situation that is prevailing in the state,” she said.
Ranganathan said that boosting economic activity in Rakhine could help reduce tensions there and that discussions on that front would be held during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Nay Pyi Taw, capital of Myanmar.
The Indian diplomat pointed out that India has been “consistently” trying to encourage Myanmar government to “find ways to stimulate some socio economic development”.
“Because if there is active economic activity, then many of the problems will at least reduce, if not disappear,” she added.
India has given one million dollar humanitarian assistance to Myanmar in the past, which was mainly used to re-build schools destroyed in previous bouts of violence in the area.
India’s biggest development project in Myanmar – the multi-modal connectivity project on Kaladan river– starts in Rakhine state. “We are very confident that once entire corridor is functional, it will have a positive impact on the state and we will continue to work with the government of Myanmar and see how much more we can do to support this”, Ranganathan said.
Indicating that Myanmar government must be given time and space to draw up plans for development, she said that “I think that the (Myanmar) government (led by Suu Kyi) is a new government. It is obviously taking its own steps towards devising policies that it believes are correct for the country and people”.
Ranganathan suggested that the implications of violence in Rakhine and exodus of Rohingya refugees from there go beyond the borders of Myanmar. “A lot of countries are impacted... but ultimately it’s for the government of Myanmar to address the situation,” she said.
New Delhi maintains that the infiltration of Rohingyas from Rakhine into India besides being a burden on the limited resources of the country aggravates security challenges.
Ranganathan refuted suggestions that India’s proposed move to send back Rohingyas marked a change in Indian policy and insisted that “It is very much in line with Indian government’s position on illegal immigrants. “In so far as illegal immigrants, that is again a very long state and established procedure based on Indian law, which we will continue to follow. There is absolutely no change on that.”
Rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on India to reconsider its plan to deport the Rohingyas, saying it should abide by its international obligations.
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.