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Rohingya repatriation: Why Suu Kyi is unlikely to change stance

  • Published at 06:07 am November 10th, 2020
Suu Kyi
File photo: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the 10th Asean-UN Summit in Bangkok on November 3, 2019 AFP

She personally adheres to a position which does not see Rohingyas as a part of the Myanmar nation

A global affairs expert has said that Bangladesh and the international community must intensify pressure on the Myanmar government over Rohingya repatriation as its military is unlikely to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to shift her position.

"It's (intensified pressure) imperative," Dr Ali Riaz, a distinguished professor at Illinois State University, told UNB sharing three reasons why Suu Kyi's position on Rohingya issue will remain unchanged.

Though Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she has widely been criticized for doing nothing to stop rape, murder and genocide in Rakhine by refusing to condemn the powerful military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities.

On three reasons why Suu Kyi is unlikely to change her position, Professor Riaz said she personally adheres to a position which does not see Rohingyas as a part of the Myanmar nation.

Secondly, he said, anti-Rohingya which is also anti-Muslim sentiment acts as a mobilizing element for Suu Kyi's support base.

Thirdly, Professor Riaz said, Myanmar’s military may not allow her to shift her position.

Also read: Rohingya repatriation: Dhaka hopeful of tripartite talks

"There should be no doubt that military holds the real key to power," said Professor Riaz, also President of the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS).  

He said Bangladesh has previously proposed establishing a safe zone inside Myanmar as the first step.

"This should now become the central thrust of the diplomatic initiatives," he said adding that unfortunately, recent EU’s (European Union) action of re-engagement is not helpful.  

Myanmar did not have any discussion with Bangladesh on Rohingya repatriation issue after January 20 this year, said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen.

Though Bangladesh has shared a number of proposals with Myanmar to build trust among Rohingyas and their subsequent repatriation, Myanmar has not said yes or no regarding those proposals.

A Pressure Point

Professor Riaz, who previously taught at universities in Bangladesh and England, said the new US administration is expected to focus on human rights and democracy issues globally.

Based on the principles laid out by Joe Biden in his address on July 11 at New York on foreign policy and the essay published in the Foreign Affairs in March, it can be safely assumed that the United States will chart a new course in its foreign policy, he said.

The foreign affairs analyst said democracy, human rights and environmental justice will be among the cornerstones of the new policy.

Rohingya issue clearly epitomize these issues," he said while responding to a question.

Besides, Professor Riaz said, considering the growing Chinese influence in the region and the close relationship between Myanmar and China, Rohingya can be a pressure point.

"However, it’ll also depend on Bangladesh’s approach and whether Bangladesh government is willing to work closely with the US and perhaps to the disliking of China," he said.

File photo of a Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Role of India, China

Asked whether the involvement of India and China in Rohingya repatriation talks with Myanmar will help generate some positive outcomes, he said some achievements can be expected.

"If China joins in good faith and acts as an honest broker, some achievements can be expected," he said.

In the past three years, China has, however, shown "little interest" in encouraging Myanmar to address the underlying causes of the crisis, the analyst said.

Instead, he said, it has "shielded the Myanmar government and the military" from international condemnation.

Since 2017, China has chaired three rounds of ministerial-level meetings on the Rohingya issue and numerous bilateral and tripartite consultations at the working level, aiming to facilitate early repatriation, said the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka recently.

"Our political and humanitarian efforts started in the very beginning and will continue until a durable solution is found," it said.

In similar vein, Professor Riaz said, India unfortunately has not played any significant role in bringing an end to the misery of the Rohingyas.

However, the Indian side said they are committed to ensuring an early, safe and sustainable repatriation of the displaced persons to the Rakhine State in Myanmar.

Anurag Srivastava, the official spokesperson at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, recently said their position is very clear on the issue of displaced persons from Rakhine State and as a neighbour of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, India has the highest stake in this issue.

During the 6th Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meeting held on September 29, Bangladesh expressed the hope that as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, India would play a more meaningful role for a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, including their early repatriation to Myanmar in a safe and sustainable manner.

Also read: UK: New Myanmar govt must address concerns in Rakhine, ensure Rohingya repatriation

Dhaka's optimism

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, however, expressed optimism over the resumption of discussion on Rohingya repatriation using tripartite mechanisms after the formation of the new government in Myanmar.

Bangladesh, Myanmar and China are planning to hold foreign minister-level tripartite talks to begin the repatriation of Rohingyas without any delay.

The first such tripartite meeting was held in New York.

The Myanmar side made commitment in many ways to repatriate Rohingyas but not a single Rohingya returned to Rakhine over the last three years.

Foreign Minister Dr Momen said there is trust deficit among Rohingyas that needs to be addressed by the Myanmar side.

Apart from the commitment to take their nationals back, Myanmar also informed that they have published a booklet on the work the Myanmar side has done and Rohingyas will be given those booklets to know the situation in Rakhine.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has conveyed his Bangladesh counterpart during their recent telephone conversation that Myanmar assured them (China) of taking back Rohingyas who are temporarily taking shelter in Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy party claimed on Monday that it has won enough seats in parliament to constitute an absolute majority and retain power, according to AP.

It made the claim even though the state Union Election Commission has not yet completed releasing results from Sunday’s election.

“I can now confirm that we’re now securing more than 322 seats,” said Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesperson for the NLD information committee. There are 642 seats in parliament.

“We were aiming to secure 377 seats in total. But it would be likely more than that,” said Monywa Aung Shin.

Dr Momen said Bangladesh will welcome the new government in Myanmar though there is no change.

Bangladesh says Rohingyas will "jeopardize regional and international security" if the 1.1 million Rohingya people are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their homeland.

Repatriation attempts were failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' "lack of trust" on the Myanmar government.

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

On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

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