“India has good relations with Myanmar – we are both members of BIMSTEC. India must emphasize to Myanmar that conditions must be created so that these refugees can return to their country.
India can call for the immediate implementation of the Kofi Annan report,” said Syed Muazzem Ali, Bangladesh high commissioner to India as Bangladesh grapples with a huge influx of refugees- which now total 6,70,000 – in the midst of one of the worst floods in recent years.
The Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali proposed a plan of action to tackle the crisis. This includes asking Myanmar to stop the violence in Rakhine province, create safe zones to protect civilians “irrespective of ethnicity and religion”. “Myanmar must engage with Bangladesh to ensure repatriation of all of its nationals living in Bangladesh through international joint verification as also proposed by the Kofi Annan Commission,” the Bangla envoy said.
Muazzem Ali conveyed Bangladesh’s concerns regarding what they saw as India’s unhelpful stand on the issue during PM’s visit to Myanmar. “I explained to the foreign secretary that we have no hesitation in decrying the terrorist attack that was launched against the security forces of Mynamar. We condemned in the strongest possible terms. My prime minister has emphasized that Bangladesh would show zero tolerance to any acts of terrorism and Bangladesh could not be allowed to be used by anyone for any terrorist acts.”
Bangladesh’s response coincides with the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, roundly criticizing Myanmar, calling the ongoing violence “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” “The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” saying “another brutal security operation is underway in Rakhine state this time, apparently on a far greater scale.” Unconfirmed reports also said the biggest militant group, ARSA, has announced a month-long ceasefire for aid agencies to access people in Rakhine.
He said “Bangladesh had offered to Myanmar if necessary joint patrols on our border. But we did not get any response from Myanmar.” In the weeks before the August 25 terror attack, “security agencies of both India and Bangladesh had alerted Myanmar about an impending attack, because we saw some activities in this area, and intercepted some telephone calls.”
India had stood by Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar leadership criticizing the August 25 violence as a terrorist attack, at a time when Suu Kyi has come under widespread international condemnation, including calls to rescind her Nobel peace prize. But this stand played very badly in Bangladesh, India’s other strategic ally, which has borne the brunt of the Rohingya exodus. India changed its stance on Saturday evening acknowledging Bangladesh’s position on the issue.
“I believe we have seen in the past that the security concerns of this issue must be given due consideration,” Muazzem Ali said. Myanmar, “must distinguish between terrorist suspects and civilian population. It has led to a mass exodus – 270,000 have taken shelter with us, and I am sure they will go to various other countries as well. I am given to understand by very high officials here that a very large number of them have also entered your country.”
The issue of Rohingya refugees is a problem in BJP-ruled India, but it comes directly in conflict with India’s position as a leading power in the region. India has found some 40,000 Rohingyas who have settled in different parts of India, but worryingly for the government, in Jammu and Kashmir. Some ministers have spoken of deporting them, but Myanmar does not want them, neither does anyone else. Indian officials say the security implications of this influx cannot be overstated given reports that Rohingyas have been infiltrated and radicalized by terror groups in Pakistan.
The Bangladesh foreign minister also put out a set of proposals for the international community. “The root of the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar. Therefore the ultimate solution has to be found in Myanmar,” Ali said. “The international community must pressure Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Commission and help Bangladesh with urgent humanitarian assistance to address the current crisis as well as for temporary relocation of Rohingyas that entered Bangladesh to Bhashan Char.”