Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Holds Talks in Bangladesh Over Rohingya Crisis

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
161220-BD-retno-620.jpg Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi arrives at an ASEAN meeting in Yangon, Myanmar, Dec. 19, 2016.

Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET 2016-12-20

Indonesia’s foreign minister met Tuesday with Bangladesh’s prime minister and other officials in Dhaka to discuss the cross-border flight of Rohingya Muslims from neighboring Myanmar, and she visited refugee camps in the southeast where thousands have fled in recent weeks.

Top Indonesian diplomat Retno L.P. Marsudi arrived in Bangladesh a day after attending a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Yangon. Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi called the meeting to discuss a humanitarian crisis stemming from violence that has gripped the western state of Rakhine, which lies on the border with Bangladesh and where Myanmar’s Rohingya minority is concentrated, since early October.

As of last week nearly 90 people had been killed in violence in Maungdaw township amid a crackdown by Myanmar’s military that followed a deadly attack by suspected Rohingya insurgents on border guard posts on Oct. 9, according to official figures from the government.

Separately, Human Rights Watch reported on Dec. 13 that an analysis of satellite imagery showed members of the military had burned at least 1,500 homes in Rohingya villages in the area. About 34,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar since early October, news reports said Tuesday, citing figures from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In her meeting with Retno, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the Indonesian diplomat the new Rohingya arrivals – whom she referred to as “undocumented Myanmar nationals” – could not stay in Bangladesh and her government would not allow insurgents to launch cross-border attacks on the neighboring country from its territory, according to Hasina’s spokesman.

“Our honorable prime minister and the honorable Indonesian foreign minister discussed the on-going problem in Myanmar. [The] prime minister has made it clear to her that Myanmar must take all the undocumented Myanmar nationals back,” Ihsanul Karim, Hasina’s press secretary, told BenarNews after the two women met on Tuesday night.

Bangladesh’s border guard said it has pushed back hundreds of boats carrying Rohingya across the Naaf River separating the two countries.

“[Hasina] categorically told her [Retno] that no insurgent or terrorist group would be allowed to use Bangladesh as proxy land to harm Myanmar or other [countries],” he added.

The prime minister also expressed hope that ASEAN member countries would help Myanmar resolve the crisis in Rakhine through dialogue.

At Monday’s meeting in Myanmar, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, whose government criticized Aung San’s administration for its handling of the situation, called on ASEAN’s 10 states to coordinate humanitarian efforts to assist people in Rakhine and to establish an independent body to probe allegations of rights abuses there.

‘We are nobody’

Retno landed in Dhaka on Tuesday morning and held talks with local counterpart Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali before she flew to Cox’s Bazar, a district in the southeast where Rohingya refugees and undocumented migrants are concentrated, according to officials at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry.

Retno visited refugee camps in the sub-district of Ukhia, where she met with some of the new Rohingya arrivals.

“We should work harder for the refugees,” Retno said in a statement obtained by Metro TV News, an Indonesian channel, following her visit to Ukhia.

A Rohingya resident of one of the camps there described the Indonesian’s envoy’s visit as a chance to resolve the crisis affecting his people.

“Myanmar kills us and Bangladesh kicks us; we are nobody. If Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries become a little bit generous, we can save ourselves from the torture of the Moghs [Rakhine Buddhists] and the military,” Mohammad Afzal, a 45-year-old who left his wife and four children in Rakhine to flee to Bangladesh, told BenarNews by phone.


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