Dhaka – Mounting global pressure has apparently compelled Myanmar to float a proposal for repatriation of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, who fled persecution in Myanmar to find shelters in neighbouring Bangladesh in the past weeks.
Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for Office of the State Counsellor, who led a three-member delegation to a meeting in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, made the proposal Monday to begin the process for repatriation.
Tint Swe, a representative of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, once a democratic icon castigated for her inaction to save the minority Muslims in her country, arrived in the early hours.
He, however, did not face the media before leaving Dhaka, rather Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali briefed the reporters after nearly two-hours meeting.
“Myanmar has proposed return of the Rohingya refugees,” Ali told reports waiting out at the State Guest House Padma, where the meeting was also attended by Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, and senior officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, home ministry and foreign affairs ministry.
The two sides also agreed on forming a joint panel to oversee repatriation of the recently arrived Rohingya Muslims, who have either been living in squalid camps or out in the open with only a tent on their head.
“We have also agreed on forming a joint working group to oversee the repatriation process,” Ali said adding that Bangladesh had also handed draft of a bi-lateral agreement to Myanmar for the possible repatriation process.
Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to form similar panels for repatriation of the refugees in the late 1970s and 1990s when tens of thousands of the minority Muslims were driven away from their homes in the Rakhine state. Myanmar seemed to have forgotten those agreements.
Tint Swe arrived for discussion on the crisis with Bangladeshi officials amid mounting global criticisms over the persecution on Rohingya Muslims in the restive Myanmar state.
An estimated 507,000 Rohingya Muslims cross the border into Bangladesh’s south-eastern Cox’s Bazar district after Burmese military launched a crackdown on suspected Muslim insurgents on August 25.
But, civilians who crossed the border said otherwise. Many of them were tortured, raped and killed by the army and their Buddhist cohorts. The Muslim homes were burnt down, they alleged.
The United Nations termed the brutality as “Textbook of ethnic cleansing” with its head Antonio Guterres calling Myanmar for time and again to stop violence. The UN and other aid agencies have been trying to collect humanitarian aids for the displaced people to provide them with food, shelter and healthcare.
At Monday’s meeting, Bangladesh raised three major issues. Repatriation of the Rohingya Muslims, including those traveled this part of the world since 1990s, joint border management to curb infiltration and drug smuggling and countering terrorism.
Bangladeshi home minister will shortly visit Myanmar for discussion over the border management proposal, said Mahmood Ali.
“And Bangladesh has proposed (signing) a bilateral agreement for executing the repatriation process. And we have handed over a copy of the bilateral agreement (to the Myanmar minister),” said Ali.
He said border management and security cooperation issues were featured in the discussion.
“Bangladesh has reiterated its zero tolerance on terrorism,” Ali said adding that both sides wanted to resolve the crisis (Rohingya influx) in a peaceful manner.
“One meeting will not resolve all problems…No timeframe has been set. But it (joint working group) will (be formed) very soon,” said Ali.
Bangladesh will nominate its representative to the Joint Working Group Myanmar will give theirs to make it functional, minister said terming it a start of the repatriation of Rohingya.
Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called Myanmar to take the persecuted Rohingya back to their homes ensuring their safety and dignity.
She also made a five-point charter of demands, including full implementation of Kofi Annan Commission report, when she addressed the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York last month. Annan’s recommendations include restoration of citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Bangladesh is optimistic about repatriation of the Rohingya Muslims, influx of whom has created pressure on Bangladesh economy and other social problems.
“We have to wait. Let the discussion start…We are very optimistic,” said the foreign minister.
“We have referred implementation of the recommendation of the Kofi Annan Commission,” said the foreign minister.
Replying to a question whether the Joint Working Group would look after the verification process, the Foreign Minister said, “Of course; this is the objective. The Joint Working Group is to decide how the repatriation process will be governed”.