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    Burma Must Recognise Rohingya or Face Asean Disgrace

    Former Asean Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan on Phuket last yearPhoto by

    By Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian
    January 10, 2013  

    PHUKET: Indonesia is
    interceding in Burma as the Asean partners desperately try to stem
    international damage from years of Asean subterfuge and inaction on the
    Rohingya issue.

    Dr Surin Pitsuwan,
    who has just retired after five years as Secretary General of the 10-nation
    group, told Phuketwan today that human rights in Burma was
    an issue that had to be addressed.

    Since the pushbacks from
    Thailand were exposed in 2009, the word ”Rohingya” has reverberated around
    the region.

    The covert
    pushbacks were Thailand’s way of dealing with an issue that Burma and its
    neighbors wanted to hide from the word. 

    In 2013, with satellite
    images being used by activist group Human Rights Watch as evidence of the
    torching of thousands of Rohingya homes in Burma’s Rakhine state, secrets are
    more difficult to keep. 

    Thousands more Rohingya are
    opting to make the perilous voyage south rather than ”die in a camp for
    displaced people,” as one boatperson put it. 

    Now that their
    homes have been burned, the women and children are fleeing Burma with their
    menfolk in a crisis generated by decades of resentment that has openly festered
    lately into bitter hatred.

    The pushbacks were
    adopted by Thailand as an answer after the 2007-2008 ”sailing season” saw
    nearly 5000 Rohingya land in Thailand. 

    Halfway through the
    2012-2013 ”sailing season,” more than 10,000 Rohingya have voyaged past
    Thailand and thousands more are planning to flee the same way.

    Since Phuketwan revealed on January 1 that women and
    children are now fleeing in the boats, a policy swing appears to be underway in

    The prospect of
    women and children being at sea for weeks in open boats alarmed the Thai Navy
    personnel and local police who intercepted the boatload of families off Phuket. 

    It can be no
    coincidence that last night’s raid took place on an illicit Thai-Malaysia
    border camp for the first time, clearly revealing that children and women are
    now falling into the hands of the people traffickers. 

    We sincerely hope
    that for Asean and the people smugglers, the days of secrecy and profit are at
    an end. 

    With the illegal
    trade now on overload, alternatives have to be found, and urgently. There is no
    doubt that the only permanent solution has to come from inside Burma. 

    Dr Surin
    acknowledged this today when he said that he believed steps had to be taken
    swiftly to recognise Rohingya families who had been living in Burma for

    Being a
    just-retired diplomat, he said that the process of recognition required time. 

    But with more women
    and children taking to the Rohingya boats each day, time is running short.
    Burma must act.