Beware of Myanmar's subterfuge

We don't want a pat on the back for taking in the refugees. We want concrete actions. Photo: Reuters

The Foreign Ministry's statement, following the mixed messages coming out of Naypyidaw after the visit of Myanmar's Union Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe to Bangladesh, that it betrayed the doubtful intention of Myanmar, has said it all. Myanmar's offer to take back Rohingyas is unmistakably a posturing on the part of Myanmar's military and does not convey an honest intention.

Clearly the latest overture is generated not by a civilised disposition to the point at issue but compelled by the heat generated by comments from some UN members and the UNSG, and in certain cases actions, albeit very token, on the part of some countries. It is a deceitful tactic to procrastinate the issue, and a handy expedient to assuage international opinion for the time being. Its intention has been made clear by the reference made by Suu Kyi's office that the repatriation would be as per the 1992 deal, a new element and a new criterion that contrasts with her statement of September 19 that the repatriation would be done in the light of the agreement done in May 1993.

And, we do not know what to make of the impending visit of our Home Minister to that country, to formalise instruments of border management between the two countries. Efficient border management is a good thing, but at a time when the sanctity of the border has been defiled by the forced efflux from Myanmar of more than half a million refugees of an ethnic group, to talk about efficient border management is a very cruel joke. Our priority should be to persuade Myanmar to work towards removing the underlying causes of the Rohingya conflict that has triggered mass exodus of the Rohingyas into our country. 

Bangladesh had been certainly caught by surprise by the development in the eastern border on August 25. Influx of such magnitude was not anticipated, and the initial reaction of our administration was one of unsureness, hoping that "push back" would discourage the Rohingya influx. That was not to be and the mid-course correction was a judicious move.

"Verification is a ruse. Can anyone with common sense expect that a person being hounded out by the state forces would be in a position to retrieve his identity card and carry it along while fleeing?

And while we are on the issue of exodus I shall ask only one question. Which country in recent times has had to absorb more than half a million persecuted refugees fleeing their country? And that too in a span of less than a month. We don't want a pat on the back for taking in the refugees, "thank you"! We want concrete action. Would it that a fraction of the Rohingyas had ended up in Australia, or on the shores of Europe, all hell would have broken loose. And were it not for the fact that they are Bengalis, and to boot Muslims most of them—there would perhaps have been moves afoot in some Western capitals to prevent the persecution and exodus of the Rohingyas beyond the verbal admonitions administered to a country that is impervious to international public opinion. And while the talks were going on in Dhaka on October 2 between our Foreign Minister and Myanmar's Union Minister, it was persecution as usual of Rohingyas in Rakhine. Rohingyas keep streaming in with tales of horror. 

There is every reason for us to be sceptical about Myanmar's intentions. After all, we have been down this road before. We must not forget that Myanmar has worked out its strategy vis a vis the Rohingyas. And nothing will make them deviate from the path to that objective—making the state of Rakhine Rohingya free—that they had formulated more than 50 years ago, short of duress brought upon them from the international community. All other moves on the part of Myanmar are subterfuges employed as temporary expedient to stymie the current international pressure, which we all know are only transient. And our past experience with Myanmar on various agreements related to the Rohingyas is not encouraging. 

Apparently Myanmar has resorted to dilatory tactics to prolong the matter. It should be clear that it has little intention to deliver on its undertakings on any past agreements with Bangladesh on the Rohingyas. Had that been so all those more than three lakh refugees that came into Bangladesh in so far should have been repatriated by now. Verification is a ruse. Can anyone with common sense expect that a person being hounded out by the state forces would be in a position to retrieve his identity card and carry it along while fleeing? 

Thus any future agreement with Myanmar on Rohingyas must include the UN as was with the 1993 deal. The matter has gone beyond the bilateral.

Brig Gen  Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

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