By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation Weekend
While Asean has shown its willingness and readiness to help solve the Rohingya crisis and ensure the safe return of thousands of refugees, the situation in Rakhine state is not safe enough for stakeholders to get to work, Foreign Minister Don Pramuwinai said on Friday.
An intense discussion on the violence in Rakhine was held during the retreat meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Chiang Mai, in which they reflected on the 10-nation bloc’s decision at last year’s Singapore summit to help ease the crisis.
Asean has commissioned its Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) to help provide assistance to the displaced Rohingya.
Team waiting to be dispatched
Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, who visited Myanmar from December 16-18, briefed the ministers about the terms of reference for the Needs Assessment Team to be dispatched to the strife-torn state.
More than 700,000 Rohingya people have fled from Rakhine state since August 2017, when militant attacks to security outposts prompted a military “clearance operation”. They suffered atrocities including arson, torture, murder, gang rape and massacre while fleeing to the Bangladesh border.
While the United Nations and United States loudly protested against these actions, some even calling it a “genocide”, Asean refrained from making any judgements and only commented on the need for a humanitarian response.
Myanmar and Bangladesh reached a deal to repatriate the first batch of refugees mid-November, but failed to implement it due to resistance from refugees who feared for their safety.
The Muslim minority are treated as outsiders in the predominantly Buddhist state, where they are called “Bengali” as a rejection of their Myanmar heritage, and refused citizenship.
Myanmar delegates at the Chiang Mai meeting briefed their Asean counterparts on their perspective of the situation, but the details were not made publicly available.
While the terms of reference of the needs assessment team was endorsed by a meeting of high-level strategic coordinators during Lim’s visit to Myanmar last month, a schedule for the team to visit Rakhine for its mission could not be fixed.
The initial schedule set for January 12-26 was postponed, as the situation on the ground is not conducive for the team to get in, Don told a press briefing on Friday. He added that a new timeline could not be fixed.
However, Don said the discussion on the issue fully supported the role of Asean in helping the Myanmar government in the repatriation process, adding, “[we] hope it will take place as soon as possible”.
In addition to collective efforts, Don said that many Asean members, including Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, had provided assistance to Myanmar on the matter. Thailand has some agriculture projects in Rakhine state, he noted.
In his press statement issued as chair of the meeting, Don said Asean had “stressed the need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root cause of the conflict, and to create a conducive environment so affected communities can rebuild their lives”.