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Bangladesh to Seek ‘Sustainable’ Rohingya Repatriation in Talks with Myanmar

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2017-11-16
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Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach Bangladesh, Nov. 10, 2017.
Reuters

Bangladesh’s foreign minister will face diplomatic hurdles as he flies to Naypyidaw Sunday to meet Myanmar officials for a third round of bilateral talks focused on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, a senior official said Thursday.

During his Nov. 22-23 meeting with Myanmar Minister Kyaw Tint Swe, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali will insist that the Rohingya be repatriated in a “sustainable” manner so they do not return to Bangladesh, senior foreign ministry official Manjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury told BenarNews.

Ali will arrive in Myanmar on Nov. 19 to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) foreign ministers’ conference that would start the following day.

He would then be in bilateral talks with Kyaw Tint Swe, Myanmar’s Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, on the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.

“At the ministerial-level meeting on Nov. 22-23, we will focus on ‘sustainable’ repatriation of the displaced Myanmar nationals in a way so that they must not re-enter again,” Khan Chowdhury said.

He said a memorandum of understanding might be signed during the meeting.

Talks between Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and his Myanmar counterpart in Naypyidaw on Oct. 23 failed to produce a joint statement because Myanmar unilaterally dropped the words “Kofi Annan Commission” from the document, Khan told BenarNews at the time.

During the talks, Myanmar had agreed to implement the recommendations of the Myanmar-appointed commission, which suggested giving equal rights to the Rohingya living in Rakhine state, Khan said.

An Oct. 2 bilateral meeting in Dhaka revealed other differences, a Bangladesh foreign ministry official told BenarNews on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bangladesh asserted that the displaced people must be sent back to their Rakhine homes, but Myanmar wanted to place them in shelters, treating them as internally displaced people, according to the source.

“If they are not allowed to go to their native place, they would not agree to go to Myanmar. The Rohingya rate the camps in Bangladesh better than those in Rakhine,” he said.

He said Bangladesh also sought to involve the United Nations in the repatriation process, but Myanmar wanted it to be bilateral.

Last week, Myanmar rebuffed a United Nations Security Council statement on atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, saying that that “issues facing Myanmar and Bangladesh today can only be resolved bilaterally, in an amicable manner, between two neighboring states.”

“Furthermore, the presidential statement could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously,” said the rebuttal, released by the office of de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Days of agony

At least 615,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh from Rakhine state since Aug. 25, after the Myanmar military launched brutal operations in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

New York-based Human Rights Watch released a 37-page report Thursday saying that the rape of women by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine state appeared to be more widespread and systematic than earlier suspected.

Many women also described witnessing the murders of their young children, spouses, and parents, the report said, adding that rape survivors reported days of agony walking with swollen and torn genitals while fleeing to Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls who had fled to Bangladesh, including 29 rape survivors, three of them girls under 18, from 19 Rakhine villages.

The report did not provide an estimate on the overall number of rapes, but said humanitarian organizations working with refugees in Bangladesh “have reported hundreds of rape cases.”

In January 2017, during an earlier cycle of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, 17 of 54 women interviewed by BenarNews in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh said they had been raped by members of the military before fleeing to Bangladesh.

The United States has called for “a credible and impartial investigation” into allegations of mass atrocities against Rohingya who sought shelter in Bangladesh.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, on Wednesday indicated that the U.S might impose targeted sanctions on individuals behind the atrocities. Tillerson also announced almost $50 million in additional humanitarian aid for refugees who fled the violence.

Rohingya Muslim refugees walk toward the Balukhali refugee camp after crossing the border in Bangladesh's Ukhia district, Nov. 2, 2017. [AFP]
Rohingya Muslim refugees walk toward the Balukhali refugee camp after crossing the border in Bangladesh's Ukhia district, Nov. 2, 2017. [AFP]

 

‘Real Myanmar citizens’

On Thursday, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, said in a statement on his official Facebook page that the majority of refugees entered Bangladesh because “extremist Bengali terrorists brutally killed all including children, women and Bengalis of their same race cooperating with the government.”

Myanmar officials typically use the pejorative term “Bengali” to describe ethnic Rohingya, who are widely viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and are denied citizenship.

Hlaing told Tillerson a military probe found that 6,000 to 10,000 people had participated in attacks on border police posts on Aug. 25, and when security forces responded, the “terrorists” and their families fled to Bangladesh, “causing an exodus,” the statement said.

“Preparations are being made to re-accept the Bengalis who left Myanmar, under the law. The situation must be acceptable for both local Rakhine ethnic people and Bengalis, and emphasis must be placed on wish of local Rakhine ethnic people who are real Myanmar citizens,” it said.

Hours after the Aug. 25 attack, the Myanmar government issued a statement saying that 59 militants and 12 Myanmar police officers had been killed in the deadliest single-day toll since fighting between ARSA and security forces broke out in October 2016.

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