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Suu Kyi seeks Hasina’s assistance to solve Rohingya issue

By Sheikh Shahariar Zaman, Dhaka Tribune

The premier told Suu Kyi that the Rohingya crisis should be solved by the two countries together

Myanmar has asked for the assistance of Bangladesh government to settle the much-talked Rohingya crisis.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi discussed the matter during a meeting in New York Monday.

“At the meeting, Suu Kyi sought help of Bangladesh to solve the Rohingya issue. She informed the prime minister about the commission, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, her country has formed to look into the crisis, and said that the matter would be resolved as per recommendation of the commission,” Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque said over the phone from New York.

“The premier told Suu Kyi that the matter should be solved by the two countries together,” the secretary said.

The Rohingya are considered by many in Myanmar to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and most do not have citizenship. They are prevented from moving freely and have their access to basic services restricted.

Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from being president but leads the government as state counsellor and foreign minister, last month announced the nine-member commission, made up of six Myanmar citizens and three foreigners, to advise her government on the Rohingya issue.

The panel is tasked with stopping human rights abuses and bringing peace to the northwestern state of Rakhine where violence between Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims has cast a pall over the country’s democratic transition.

Suu Kyi has been criticised for doing too little to address the plight of the Rohingya minorities.

Myanmar law does not recognise the Rohingya as one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, making them stateless.

Ethnic Rakhine men hold homemade weapons as they walk in front of a house that was burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe June 10, 2012. Northwest Myanmar was tense on Monday after sectarian violence engulfed its largest city at the weekend, with Reuters witnessing rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torching houses and police firing into the air to disperse crowds. Picture taken June 10, 2012. REUTERS/Staff (MYANMAR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST RELIGION)

Ethnic Rakhine men hold homemade weapons as they walk in front of a house that was burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe June 10, 2012. Northwest Myanmar was tense on Monday after sectarian violence engulfed its largest city at the weekend, with Reuters witnessing rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torching houses and police firing into the air to disperse crowds. Picture taken June 10, 2012. REUTERS/Staff (MYANMAR – Tags: CIVIL UNREST RELIGION)

More than 100 people were killed in violence in Rakhine in 2012 and some 125,000 Rohingya Muslims took refuge in squalid “internally displaced persons” (IDP) camps where their movements are severely restricted. Thousands have fled persecution and poverty by boat or entered Bangladesh through the border.

The UNHCR has worked with Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh at the invitation of the government since 1993.

It operates in two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to provide protection and assistance to some 33,000 refugees and advocates with the government for the protection of some 300,000 to 500,000 unregistered Myanmar nationals who do not enjoy the same benefits as refugees.

UNHCR External Relations Unit’s Farheen Khan recently told the Dhaka Tribune that the problem requires a political solution. “The international community, including the USA and the Dalai Lama have requested Myanmar to grant the Rohingya their rights, but this has been prevented by violent resistance by right-wing extremists. The Rohingyas must be returned their citizenship which was stripped in 1982,” the official said.

Myanmar has been torn by fighting between the military, which seized power in the 1962 coup, and ethnic armed groups almost without a break since the end of the Second World War.

The plight of the Rohingya people has raised questions about Suu Kyi’s commitment to human rights and represents a politically sensitive issue for her National League for Democracy, which won a landslide election victory last year.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also called on Myanmar to improve the living conditions for its Rohingya Muslim minority. “The government has assured me about its commitment to address the roots of the problem,” Ban told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw on August 30.

The first meeting of the commission, chaired by Annan, was held on September 5.

“This is an issue that we have failed to meet squarely and fairly, and to which we have not been able to find the right solution,” Suu Kyi said at the meeting in the commercial capital, Yangon, according to Reuters. “We hope that this commission will help us to find solutions to the problem.”

Annan said that the panel would come up proposals to the issue over the coming months.

Even though the international communities have welcomed the commission, the largest political party in Rakhine State, the Arakan National Party (ANP), has criticised it, insisting that foreigners cannot understand the history of the area. Some members of the ANP – formed by hardline Rakhine Buddhists – participated in a protest against the commission’s visit to the region September 6.

Protesters shout slogans during a rally against former U.N. chief Kofi Annan in Sittwe, Myanmar, September 6, 2016 Reuters

Protesters shout slogans during a rally against former UN chief Kofi Annan in Sittwe, Myanmar, September 6, 2016 Reuters

Jeers and chants denouncing the panel intensified upon the arrival of Annan’s plane. The crowd soon followed the convoy into town, where Annan delivered a speech and met with members of both the Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine communities during his two-day visit to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state.

On the other hand, radical Islamists and militant outfits of Bangladesh have joined hands with the Rohingya groups including Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) to demand due rights of the minority group. Militant groups Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State have also threatened to avenge the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

After the 2012 communal violence in Myanmar, Buddhist monasteries and localities were attacked in Ramu, Cox’s Bazar on September 29 by local Muslims following a rumour that the Qur’an had been defamed by a Buddhist on Facebook. Witnesses say not only the members of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, but also the ruling Awami League men were involved in the attacks stage-managed in Ramu, Cox’s Bazar sadar, Ukhiya and Teknaf areas.

‘Rohingya influx risky for Bangladesh’

A Foreign Ministry official said that though the government had taken different steps to stop the influx of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, it did not succeed due to a porous border, and shortage of manpower and other logistics.

“It is a major threat to the country’s security as the Rohingyas are easy prey to terrorism. They can be used in militant activities very easily,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

The government has taken more stricter measures after the July 1 attack on a Gulshan eatery that killed 23 people, including 17 foreigners.

“The way the Rohingyas are entering Bangladesh is quite impossible to contain. Many of them are engaged in different illegal activities including drug smuggling.”

Less than 300,000 Rohingyas registered their names during the census carried out in six coastal areas in May by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, according to primary data.

“We thought that there are around 500,000 undocumented Rohingyas. But the primary statistics give a different picture.”

He thinks that many Rohingyas did not register their names as they have spread across the country.

In August 2014, Myanmar agreed to take back the Rohingyas stranded in Bangladesh after the eighth foreign secretary-level talks in Dhaka. Even though the process of repatriating 2,415 Rohingyas from the two camps was supposed to begin within two months, it did not happen.

After 2005, it was the first time Myanmar agreed to repatriate Rohingyas from Bangladesh.

‘Dialogues can solve all bilateral issues’

Briefing reporters after Monday’s meeting, PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim said that the two leaders had discussed outstanding issues between the two neighbouring countries and agreed to resolve all bilateral issues through dialogues, reports BSS.

Hasina reiterated her “zero tolerance” stance on terrorism and said Bangladesh soil would never be allowed for carrying out terrorist activities against any countries.

She said Bangladesh has set an example of effective cooperation with its other neighbours in combating terrorism and violent extremism.

The prime minister also invited the Myanmar leader to visit Bangladesh and Suu Kyi gladly accepted the invitation.

PM’s ICT Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, Principal Secretary Abul Kalam Azad, among others, were present during the meeting of the two leaders.