By The Jakarta Post
Asia News Network
Myanmar attracted international attention two years ago when its military initiated a crackdown on Rakhine state, driving about 730,000 Muslim Rohingya to cross into Bangladesh.
Since earlier this year, civilians in Rakhine have also been caught up in clashes between the military and the Arakan Army, an insurgent group that recruits from the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population and is fighting for greater autonomy for the state.
The call on Myanmar was stated in a joint communiqué issued at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting last week in their bid to ensure a voluntary return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Rakhine in a safe, secure and dignified manner.
“We also looked forward to the continued and effective dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh to facilitate the repatriation process of displaced persons from Rakhine,” the ministers said.
The ministers also “welcomed the visit of the High-Level Mission” by Myanmar’s government accompanied by representatives from the ASEAN Secretariat and the AHA Center, including an ASEAN-ERAT member, to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on July 27 to 29.
The visit was one of the recommendations made in the AHA Center’s preliminary report on the Rohingya, which suggests ASEAN help with the communication strategy during the preparations for repatriation.
The foreign ministers have also discussed the eagerness of the refugees to continue the dialogue, especially because they were aware that the visit was the first time a dialogue between refugees and ASEAN was held, according to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
“Both the refugees and the Bangladesh government want this dialogue to continue. We talked with [officials] both from Myanmar and from the ASEAN side, who all agreed that we will continue this dialogue with refugees and refugee representatives,” she added.
Myanmar International Cooperation Minister U Kyaw Tin, meanwhile, said that Myanmar had already invited a Bangladeshi minister to visit Myanmar for such talks.
"Right now we are still at the stage of trying to identifying the needs by making joint visits with ASEAN Secretariat and AHA center representatives. We have to plan to set up a working group for this matter. ASEAN also plans to set up a specific unit to approach this issue constructively,” he said on Thursday.
The lack of a security guarantee and of recognition from the Myanmar government of their legal status has so far made the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh reluctant to return to Myanmar.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the “trust deficit” of the Rohingya refugees was the reason why they became reluctant to return home.
“We understand that repatriation cannot happen as there is a trust deficit now. The Rohingya don’t believe they are safe. Who wants to go back if you know you are not safe? There should be a clear understanding between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to ensure the repatriation of the Rohingya can happen,” Saifuddin said as quoted by Bernama.
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, meanwhile, told fellow ASEAN ministers that racial and ethnic discrimination remained a challenge in all societies and ASEAN member states should take a strong stand against it, according to a statement posted on the Singapore Foreign Ministry’s website.
In the communiqué, the ministers also said they expected that the independent commission of inquiry established by Myanmar's government "would seek accountability by carrying out an independent and impartial investigation into alleged human rights violations and related issues".