Myanmar President Thein Sein shakes hands with Senator The Hon Bob Carr, Foreign Affairs Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, at the Credentials Hall of the Presidential Palace on July 10, 2013. Photo: President’s Office
July 12, 2013
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr says Australia won’t use foreign aid as a bargaining tool with Myanmar, despite being “apprehensive” about the future of the country’s minority Rohingya Muslim population.
Senator Carr has raised their plight during talks with the government in Naypyidaw, but he’s ruled out accepting large numbers of Rohingyas as refugees, even though they are not considered to be citizens of Myanmar.
Presenter: Naomi Woodley
Speaker: Bob Carr, Australian Foreign Minister
BOB CARR: Australia takes a keen interest in their plight and in the need for reconciliation and harmony within this part of Myanmar.
NAOMI WOODLEY: How was that message received by the different political groups in Myanmar?
BOB CARR: Well, the representatives of the government pointed to the efforts they had made to bring communities back together and promote tolerance. They emphasised that education and the development of opportunities across all the ethnic groups in Rakhine state would be vital to longer term success.
We, for our part, are able to talk about the humanitarian assistance we provided in that state. I’ve announced an increase of $3.2 million going towards the emergency accommodation required but I’ve got to say, after spending the day in Yangon talking to our representatives of the Rohingya people and to representatives of a group at odds with them, the Arakan League for Democracy and the Rakhine Nationalities Democratic Party* that I’m pretty apprehensive.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Given Aung San Suu Kyi’s special status across the world as really a symbol of peaceful struggle and the pursuit of democracy and rights, are you disappointed that she hasn’t taken a more aggressive stance on this?
BOB CARR: I wouldn’t criticise any of the political leadership of Myanmar. I’d simply highlight that this is an extraordinarily difficult problem. It goes back to colonial times and earlier. As the minister for reconciliation said to me, he said we’ve got 11 armed ethnic groups and we’ve got 135 recognised ethnic groups.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Australia is one of the largest contributors of aid towards Myanmar. How quickly are we going to get to a point where the Australian Government would start to look at aid or make aid contingent on some action being taken towards resolving this particular tension?
BOB CARR: Yeah, this is such a wretchedly poor country, we couldn’t do that. Our simple humanitarian instincts require that we go on giving aid while, with the credibility that gives us and being seen as something of a champion of Myanmar, we will continue to press with the government and with opposition leadership the plight of the Rohingya.
NAOMI WOODLEY: But then how do you make that message effective because this is a problem that has been growing in seriousness. It is a deep seated problem. So if you’re not going to use the sharp end of aid, how does Australia adequately convey this message in a way that will see some action taken?
BOB CARR: Well, Myanmar does care about the way the world perceives it. It does desperately need an inflow of investment dollars to lift the living standards of its people, to see more people move into employment and to see more people liberated from rural poverty.
I think it does care that the headlines around the world these days about ethnic and sectarian tensions in Rakhine province and not about the fact that the government has concluded peace agreements, ceasefires with 11 armed ethnic groups, which is an awe inspiring achievement and one the country can truly be proud of.
TONY EASTLEY: That’s the Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, who’s been in Myanmar for the last couple of days. He was speaking to AM’s Naomi Woodley.