China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China believed Myanmar and Bangladesh could work out a mutually acceptable way to end the crisis
China called for a ceasefire in Rakhine State so that Rohingya refugees can return from Bangladesh, proposing a three-stage approach to the crisis as diplomats from 51 mostly Asian and European countries gathered in Myanmar on Monday.
More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a military clearance operation in Buddhist majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Amid a burgeoning humanitarian catastrophe, rights groups have accused the Myanmar military of atrocities, while foreign critics have blasted Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who leads a civilian administration that is less than two years old, for failing to speak out more strongly.
On Monday, Suu Kyi opened an Asia-Europe Meeting for foreign ministers that had been scheduled in Myanmar before the outbreak of the crisis.
Speaking in the capital of Naypyitaw on Sunday, having arrived from Dhaka, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China believed Myanmar and Bangladesh could work out a mutually acceptable way to end the crisis.
“The first phase is to effect a ceasefire on the ground, to return to stability and order, so the people can enjoy peace and no longer be forced to flee,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement, citing Wang.
“With the hard work of all sides, at present, the first phase’s aim has already basically been achieved, and the key is to prevent a flare-up, especially that there is no rekindling the flames of war.”
During a meeting on Sunday, the ministry said, Wang told Myanmar President Htin Kyaw, “As a friend of both Myanmar and Bangladesh, China is willing to keep playing a constructive role for the appropriate handling of the Rakhine State issue.”
Once a ceasefire is seen to be working, Wang said talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh should find a workable solution for the return of refugees, and the final phase should be to work toward a long-term solution based on poverty alleviation.
Myanmar and Bangladesh officials began talks last month to settle a repatriation process for Rohingya refugees, which Bangladesh expects to take to the next level in coming days.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said, “We believe that stopping the violence, the flow of refugees and guaranteeing full humanitarian access to Rakhine state, and safe, sustainable repatriation of refugees are going to be key.”
It was unclear, however, whether a safe return was possible, or advisable, for the thousands of Rohingya women and children still stranded on the beaches trying to flee hunger and instability in Rakhine.
Myanmar intends to resettle most refugees who return in new “model villages”, rather than on the land they previously occupied, an approach the United Nations has criticised in the past as effectively creating permanent camps.
Besides restoring peace for Rohingya to return, Myanmar also had to resolve the issue of their citizenship, having treated them as stateless for decades, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, told a news conference in Tokyo.
The UNHCR was ready to assist both countries with repatriation, he said, adding that it could help Myanmar with the citizenship verification of the Rohingya. Until now it has not been invited to participate in either.
“Much as resources are needed in Bangladesh to respond to the crisis, the solutions to this crisis lie in Myanmar,” Grandi said.