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Arsa: Myanmar’s new propaganda front to delay Rohingya repatriation

  • Published at 12:47 am September 17th, 2019
File photo: Rohingya refugees stretch their hands to receive aid distributed by local organisations at Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 14, 2017 Reuters

Myanmar claims Arsa is stopping Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar from returning home; Bangladesh says Arsa doesn’t exist in Rohingya refugee camps

The Myanmar government has adopted a new propaganda front in regard to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) to further delay the repatriation of the Rohingyas currently sheltered in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, multiple sources have told Dhaka Tribune.

Having failed to create a conducive environment for the Rohingya refugees to return to Rakhine in accordance with the bilateral agreement between the two countries, Naypyidaw is now running a propaganda campaign holding Arsa responsible for the Rohingyas’ unwillingness to return to their homes, the sources further said. 

Through the state-controlled media, government machinery and their diplomatic missions across the world, the Myanmar government has been saying that Arsa is to blame for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas leaving Rakhine to flee to Cox’s Bazar, the sources added.

Myanmar also claims that Arsa members are present in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and are stopping the Rohingyas from returning to Rakhine, the sources said, adding that Naypyidaw is also saying that Rohingyas are fearful to return home because of the presence of Arsa in Rakhine.

In face of the Myanmar propaganda, Bangladesh does not seem to be doing enough to counter it to expose Naypyidaw’s ill intention to delay the repatriation, several serving and foreign diplomats told Dhaka Tribune, emphasizing that there are people who tend to believe the false news.

Government officials concerned in Bangladesh, however, rejected any presence of Arsa members in the Rohingya settlements in Cox’s Bazar.

This claim is nothing but yet another Myanmar ploy to further delay the repatriation, which they are obligated to see through under the deals signed between the two governments, they told Dhaka Tribune.

“Among more than one million people [Rohingya refugees currently living in Bangladesh], there might be few Arsa sympathizers, but there is no organized presence of the outfit here. Myanmar’s claim that Arsa members are stopping people from returning home in Rakhine is absurd,” a senior government official said.

Bangladesh Ambassador to Myanmar Manjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury experienced a glimpse of Myanmar’s new propaganda front involving Arsa last week when he, along with the envoys of China, India and nine member states Asean, as well as the UNDP and the UNHCR, flew to Rakhine to visit “reconstructed” villages for the returning Rohingyas.

The delegates attempted to visit the villages in question twice – on September 10 and 11 – but were unable to as the helicopters designated to take them could not take off due to bad weather.

However, 11 Hindus, who were presented before the delegation, talked about the loss of lives and property and how they were forced to flee to Bangladesh due to the attacks by Arsa in August 2017, and how they were repatriated back to Rakhine with the help of a Hindu religious leader from Rakhine state and the Indian government, according to a report run by state-controlled The Global New Light of Myanmar. 

Following their return to Rakhine, they allegedly continued to be threatened by Arsa and therefore lived under the protection of the security personnel.  

Ten Rohingya Muslims also “interacted” with the envoys, telling them about “the hardships and intimidation during their short stay in the camps,” said the report. 

“Because of these atrocities, threats, killings, food shortages, and schooling and healthcare difficulties for their families [in the camps], they [the Rohingyas] decided to return on their own accord and arrangements,” the report further said.

The Global New Light of Myanmar further reported that the Rohingyassaid how those remaining in the camps continue living in fear and threat from Arsa, that there have been threats via the internet and social media. 

“And even though they want to return to their place of origin, they are afraid of the threat from ARSA. And even though their relatives and friends wanted to return, they dared not, because the situation in the camps was fraught with danger including constant threats from ARSA. The NVC cards and the creation of livelihood opportunities were further discussed,” the report added.

Diplomatic sources familiar with the interactions said the Hindus and Rohingyas said what they were ordered to say, and there is no truth in what they said.

Asked about the Myanmar propaganda, a former top diplomat said: “Myanmar always seems to remain ahead of Bangladesh in terms of publicizing anything regarding the Rohingya repatriation. Our Foreign Ministry must be more active in responding to Myanmar propaganda in a befitting and timely manner.

“We do protest any propaganda that comes to our notice,” a senior official said. “From now on, we will have to do more.”