• Tuesday, Mar 02, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:51 am

Myanmar military 'reaches out' to Rohingyas in Rakhine

  • Published at 05:31 pm February 5th, 2021
Myanmar army
Myanmar Army armored vehicles drive in a street after the military seized power in a coup in Mandalay, Myanmar on February 3, 2021 Reuters

Rohingya repatriation talks stalled after military coup in Myanmar

After its takeover, the military administration in Myanmar has reached out to Rohingyas in Rakhine State which is seen as military junta’s "desire to gradually bring back normalcy" in the Rakhine state giving confidence to Rohingyas for return.  

"Whatever may be the military’s new approach and policy on Rohingya and Rakhine issues, it’ll take time to get a shape," a diplomatic source told UNB.

He said they need to have patience and carefully assess the gradually unfolding developments in Myanmar.

For voluntary repatriation to commence, officials say, the question of the confidence of the potential returnees Rohingyas about going back plays a very important role.

Rohingyas at the camps in Cox’s Bazar were joyous at the news of the fall of Suu Kyi.

"This shouldn’t cloud our judgment and mislead us to think that the incumbent military regime will be liked by the Rohingyas," said a diplomat in Dhaka, adding that there is bad blood between Tatmadaw and the Rohingyas.

However, he said, if the military decides to gradually normalize the situation in northern and central Rakhine, this will send a positive signal to the Rohingyas sheltered at the Cox’s Bazar camps. 

"Such confidence-building measures will at least eliminate the possibility of further exodus of the existing Rohingyas from northern Rakhine," the diplomat observed.

Bangladesh and Myanmar were supposed to have a meeting on Rohingya repatriation on Thursday but it did not happen due to domestic situation in Myanmar.

This first goodwill gesture from the military administration after the takeover towards the Rohingyas was reported on Thursday in Sittwe.

The Regional Military Commander of the Rakhine State went to Aung Minglar Quarter, Sittwe and met some Rohingya community leaders and talked to them for about 45 minutes, a source in Myanmar told UNB.

Aung Minglar Quarter is the Ghetto in the regional capital, where a few thousand Rohingyas have been languishing since 2012 like 19 other isolated IDP camps in central Rakhine since the anti-Rohingya communal violence of 2012.

The Regional Commander explained the justification of the coup to the Rohingya elders.

He enquired about the condition of the Rohingya community in the Ghetto.  Rohingya elders reportedly mentioned “severe restriction on movement” as their main problem.

The Regional Commander gave the hope of easing the existing restriction on movement to the Rohingyas.

He also reportedly informed the Rohingya community that the military would solve all the problems step by step.  The regional commander then donated 500000 MMKs (US$350) and some food for the mosque in Aung Minglar Quarter. He blamed the NLD and Aung Sun Suu Kyi for what happened in 2017.

The commander then urged the Rohingya community to abide by the laws of the land to which Rohingyas responded positively.

"We also got a report of similar visits by the sub-Regional Commanders of Maungdaw to a mosque and brief meeting with the Rohingyas there," another source told UNB.

While it is too early to comment whether such gesture is indicative of the military's possible ‘softening’ towards the Rohingyas, it will precisely help boost the confidence of the Rohingyas and could also promote reconciliation in Rakhine, the source said.

The Military may also wish to recover part of its lost image in Rakhine, and possibly wants to show that they can deliver what the NLD could not, said a diplomat in Dhaka.

UNSC call

Meanwhile, the members of the UN Security Council have reiterated the need to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State and to create conditions necessary for the safe, voluntary, sustainable and dignified return of Rohingyas.

The members of the Security Council expressed deep concern at the declaration of the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar by the military on 1 February and the arbitrary detention of members of the Government, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and others. 

They called for the immediate release of all those detained, according to a Security Council press statement on the situation in Myanmar issued on Thursday.

The members of the Security Council emphasized the need for the continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar. 

Dhaka's View

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said Bangladesh is hopeful of proceeding as per the plan to repatriate Rohingyas to Myanmar as history tells that Rohingyas had been repatriated twice in 1978 and 1992 under military government in Myanmar. 

“We want to continue the process. The process should continue as we had seen repatriation in 1978 and 1992, why not this time? It’s an opportunity for Myanmar. They should take this advantage,” he told reporters at his office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Responding to a question, the Foreign Minister said they are unable to contact Myanmar's interim government at this moment as all communication channels are cut off.

Bangladesh hoped that the democratic process and constitutional arrangements will be upheld in Myanmar and the Rohingya repatriation process will continue.

“We have been persistent in developing mutually beneficial relations with Myanmar and have been working with Myanmar for the voluntary, safe and sustained repatriation of the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh. We expect these processes to continue in right earnest,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday. 

The MoFA said Bangladesh firmly adheres to and promotes democratic ethos and as an immediate and friendly neighbour, Bangladesh would like to see peace and stability in Myanmar

Asked about China’s role in the UNSC, the foreign minister said Bangladesh approached all countries including the United Nations and the issue went to the international court.

He said all gave lip services but China came forward. “We can’t interfere in China’s policy but we kept China in our confidence.”

Dr Momen said some countries fear further influx amid the changed situation in Myanmar but Bangladesh kept its border secure. “In the past,our people welcomed Rohingyas. Now, they are not in a mood to welcome more.”

Earlier, Myanmar said they are committed to beginning the repatriation of Rohingyas as per the bilateral agreement signed with Bangladesh in 2017.

Bangladesh handed over a list of 840,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar for verification. Myanmar has verified only 42,000 people (5%).  "There’s a serious lack of seriousness," said the foreign minister.

Dr Momen said they are doing their part but Myanmar is not helping the same way. He said he is always hopeful of beginning repatriation as history says they took back their nationals in 1978 and 1992.

Rohingya Crisis and Repatriation

More than three years ago, Myanmar’s soldiers “targeted, killed, and raped” Rohingya and burned their villages, as the United Nations, Refugees International, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the US State Department itself, and many others have documented.

Over 800,000 Rohingyas fled the “genocidal violence” and Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas.

Bangladesh is trying in multiple ways - bilaterally, multilaterally, tri-laterally, and through the judicial system – to find a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis. 

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.

They then signed a document on “Physical Arrangement,” which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

But repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 - clearly amid Rohingyas' "lack of trust" in the Myanmar government.

Subsequently, during the 74th UNGA held in September 2019 in New York, China took an initiative to propose the tripartite framework with their presence largely in an overseeing role that can nevertheless hold both sides to account on their respective commitments to each other. 

The Bangladesh side had already complained of Myanmar acting in 'bad faith' during negotiations, whereby they never had any intention of taking the Rohingya back and was only meeting to keep up appearances. 

However, soon after a meeting of the trio on January 20, 2020, the coronavirus lockdowns started taking its toll in different parts of the world.

Bangladesh pushed Myanmar hard on creating a favourable environment for Rohingya repatriation with an expeditious verification process and "cautiously expressed optimism" to begin it in the second quarter of this year.

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