Myanmar says U.N. move could harm talks with Bangladesh over return of Rohingya
YANGON: Myanmar said on Wednesday that a U.N. Security Council statement on the Rohingya refugee crisis could “seriously harm” its talks with Bangladesh over repatriating more than 600,000 people who have fled there to escape a Myanmar military crackdown.
The Security Council had urged Myanmar, in a statement on Monday, to “ensure no further excessive use of military force” and had expressed “grave concern over reports of human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine State”.
Responding, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, whose less than two year-old civilian administration shares power with the military, said the issues facing Myanmar and Bangladesh could only be resolved bilaterally, a point she says was ignored in the Security Council statement.
“Furthermore, the (Security Council) Presidential Statement could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously,” Suu Kyi’s office said in a statement.
Negotiations with Bangladesh were ongoing it said, and the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali had been invited to Myanmar from Nov. 16-17. Bangladeshi officials said, however, that the minister’s visit was likely to take place at a later date.
A sour note was struck over the talks last week, as Bangladesh officials voiced outrage over Suu Kyi’s spokesman casting suspicion that Bangladesh might drag its feet over agreeing to the repatriation process in order to first secure hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid money.
Speaking at a conference for Commonwealth countries’ parliamentarians in Dhaka on Sunday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for more international pressure on Myanmar.
“I would request all of you to discuss Rohingya issue with utmost priority and exert pressure on the Myanmar government to stop the persecution of its citizens and take them back at the earliest,” she said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Myanmar on Nov. 15, with moves afoot in Washington to table a bill calling for sanctions on Myanmar that specifically target the military and related business interests.
In a nod to China, the Myanmar statement said it appreciated the stand taken by some members of the Security Council who upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.
To appease council veto powers Russia and China, Britain and France dropped a push for the Security Council to adopt a resolution on the situation and the 15-member body instead unanimously agreed on a formal statement.
MORE BOATS REACH BANGLADESH
The United Nations has denounced the violence during the past 10 weeks as a classic example of ethnic cleansing to drive the Rohingya Muslims out of Buddhist majority Myanmar.
Rejecting that accusation, the military says its counter-insurgency clearance operation was provoked by Rohingya militants’ synchronized attacks on 30 security posts in the northern part of Rakhine State on Aug. 25.
Rohingya refugees say the military torched their villages, but the military say the arsonists were Rohingya militants. The refugees’ have given harrowing accounts of rape and murder. Myanmar says those accusations will have to be investigated.
Meantime, the exodus from Rakhine continues. Several thousand Rohingya reached Bangladesh last week, many wading through shallows on the Naf river on the boundary between the two countries, and some making a short, but perilous sea crossing in small boats.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh border guards told Reuters of at least two more boats reaching Cox’s Bazar, bringing 68 more Rohingya to join the hundreds of thousands who have taken shelter in refugee camps there.
Suu Kyi, a stateswoman lionized as a Nobel Peace Prize winner for defying the junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, has been pilloried abroad for not speaking out more forcefully to rein in the military.
Last week she went to Rakhine for the first time since the crisis erupted, and met with community leaders and saw what efforts were being made to deliver aid and return the region to some semblance of normality.
While she has spoken of plans to open repatriation processing centers, where the refugees will have to prove they were once resident in Rakhine before being allowed to return.
Having been classed as stateless by the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, Rohingya could struggle passing the repatriation test.
During recent weeks, authorities began issuing “national verification cards” to people in northern Rakhine. Remaining Rohingya have been reluctant to accept these cards as they do not guarantee citizenship, and would effectively treat them as new immigrants.