Rohingya refugee crisis: Myanmar stays indifferent: FM
12:00 AM, October 11, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:25 AM, October 11, 2017

Ties With Bangladesh

Myanmar stays indifferent: FM

Myanmar has been unresponsive to Bangladesh's efforts to improve bilateral ties over the last two years, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said yesterday. 

Dhaka stepped up efforts to enhance friendship and cooperation with Naypyidaw since the formation of the democratic government by the National League of Democracy (NLD) in March 2016, he said.

As part of this endeavour, Bangladesh's foreign secretary visited Myanmar as the goodwill ambassador of the prime minister on June 30-July 1 last year.

Besides, Sheikh Hasina met Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on the sideline of the UN General Assembly in New York and of BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit in Goa of India last year.

"In these meetings, Bangladesh spoke about ending any misconceptions and assured the NLD government of cooperation,” Mahmood said. 

“Yet, Myanmar remained indifferent to bilateral relations with Bangladesh and is now attempting to show the international community that its relations with Bangladesh are normal."

He was addressing a discussion titled "Rohingya Crisis: Measures taken by Bangladesh and a Review" organised by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) at its auditorium in the capital.

The comments came when over 520,000 Rohingya fled violence in Myanmar in the wake of a military crackdown in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks on some 30 police posts and an army base on August 25.

An estimated 3,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed, while more than 284 Rohingya villages were burned down in the army operation. Thousands of Rohingyas continue to cross the border to Bangladesh, the minister said. 

Myanmar also violated Bangladesh's airspace and laid landmines along the border apparently to prevent return of the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and other basic rights by Myanmar despite having their roots there for generations.

Speaking at the programme, two army officials said Myanmar tried to instigate Bangladesh into military engagement, but Bangladesh maintained restraint.

In late September, Bangladesh raised the Rohingya issue in the UN which described the violence against the Rohingya as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" while rights bodies called it genocide and crimes against humanity.

The US, the UK and France spoke of strong actions against Myanmar, but the UN Security Council could not do so because of opposition from China and Russia, Myanmar's close allies.

On October 2, Myanmar officially proposed taking back a part of its nationals after verification as per an agreement signed by the two countries in 1992.

"Myanmar's proposal for partial repatriation of the Rohingya could be a tactic to ease international pressure," Mahmood said.

He added Myanmar's proposal for verification by itself could be a technique to limit the number of Rohingyas for repatriation and prolong the implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission report.

Since August 25, Rohingya Muslims have been intentionally driven away from Buthidaung and Maungdaw of Rakhine, the minister said, adding that Myanmar continued to establish a "demographic balance" in Northern Rakhine under a specific plan.

However, Myanmar, with support from the state media, is trying to confuse the international community and some neighbouring countries as it terms the violence as "Islamist terrorism" or "extremist Bengali terrorism".

For decades, the Rohingya have been persecuted in Myanmar, made stateless and forced to leave the country. Though the operation in late August began against the militants, civilians, including women and children, faced cruel persecution, the minister added.

"Therefore, the Rohingya problem now is no more an internal issue of Myanmar, but a regional one. It is also not limited to a bilateral issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh," Mahmood Ali said.

The Rohingya would not be willing to return to Myanmar unless the country provides them citizenship and all basic rights, eliminate all sorts of discrimination and religious hatred, he said, urging stronger pressure and role of the international community in solving the problem.

"However, there is also no alternative to a continuous communication with Myanmar," the minister noted.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said Dhaka was for all-out diplomatic efforts to engage the international community in addressing the issue.

At the same time, the government is arranging all emergency assistance -- food, water, shelter and medicine -- for the Rohingya in Kutupalong, he said.

"We have been fighting a tough battle," said Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, adding that at least 25 countries had been communicated.

Former ambassador Mahmud Hasan warned that Myanmar could drag the issue in the pretext of verification.

"It is extremely important that the UN is engaged in the whole affairs of repatriation," he said.

Former ambassador CM Shafi Sami said the international community needed to realise that the persecution of Rohingyas may lead to terrorism.

This is why the global community should solve it on a priority basis.

Prof Syed Anwar Husain, who teaches history at Dhaka University, suggested formation of a national taskforce -- comprised of academics and officials from the foreign ministry and the armed forces -- to lead the diplomatic efforts for mobilising international support.

Prof CR Abrar of international relations at the DU said what happened in Rakhine was a "clear case of genocide" and so everyone should call it genocide.

Prof Tasneem Siddiqui, a political science teacher at DU, suggested taking the issue to the International Criminal Court.

He also spoke for engaging national NGOs in the management and relief distribution in Rohingya camps because they knew the local realities better.

BIISS Board of Governors Chairman Munshi Faiz Ahmad, DG Maj Gen AKM Abdur Rahman, Border Guard Bangladesh DG Maj Gen Abul Hossain, former ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Sakhawat Hussain, relief and disaster management official Habibul Kabir also spoke.

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