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Enough studies – let’s help the Rohingya

Aug 13. 2018
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By The Nation

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Politics and delaying tactics have gulled those who were earnest about ending the crisis

With the one-year anniversary nearing of the Kofi Annan report recommending solutions to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, the international community needs to send Nay Pyi Taw a clear and strong message that it’s had enough of investigative commissions. Diplomatic niceties have been emanating from this catastrophe for far too long. Asean foreign ministers at their annual meetings have formally “welcomed” in turn the establishment of each new panel to probe the crisis. Hands are wrung but nothing gets done.

It should be abundantly clear by now that the committees set up to resolve matters achieve next to nothing. The Myanmar government has inked vague agreements with the United Nations Development Programme and its human-rights agency, but what’s on paper does not adequately address realities.

One reality is that the benighted Muslim-minority Rohingya driven from their homes in western Rakhine state have nothing left to return to there. The authorities have basically paved over the area, bulldozing away all evidence of atrocities committed by security forces and hateful, xenophobic Buddhist zealots. With no assurance they will be able to resume life unmolested, the Rohingya are unwilling to leave even the meagre comforts of the refugee camps along the Bangladesh border. A temporary camp waiting for them in Rakhine, paid for by China and India, remains empty.

The latest committee to be established, just weeks ago, is scrutinising the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a little-known militant group blamed for the August 2017 attacks against 30 military and police posts just hours after Kofi Annan unveiled his recommendations. The committee is tasked with assessing ARSA atrocities – not those of government soldiers, police and rabid civilians.

Nay Pyi Taw cannot be allowed to continue buying time and hiding behind investigative commissions and advisory boards. Apart from humanitarian prerogatives, there are serious political and security repercussions for Southeast Asia the longer the problems are left to fester. The international community must be united in demanding more serious engagement from the Myanmar government. It should no longer accept the authorities’ promise that matters are being addressed.

De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has claimed that 81 of the 88 recommendations made by Kofi Annan’s commission have been “implemented”. This probably means that boxes on a to-do list have been ticked. Certainly we have seen no independent verification of improvements made in Rakhine itself.

Meanwhile, Thailand is steadfastly lacking in empathy, its interest in the crisis piqued only by the involvement of former foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who Suu Kyi chose late last year to lead yet another advisory board. The panel doesn’t have a stamp of approval from the Thai military, so Myanmar’s generals aren’t about to take it seriously. 

The Thai junta dares not endorse Surakiart’s board lest it upset bilateral ties, currently as warm as they’ve been in decades. The Myanmar military is no ally of Suu Kyi, though, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing refuses to meet Surakiart.

Surakiart’s continued presence not only helps the government with its delaying tactics, but it could also create confusion about Thai policy – and Thailand will in a few months be taking its turn chairing Asean, potentially giving it an even stronger role in what happens in Myanmar. 

For the sake of clarity and progress, Surakiart and his board members from Britain, Sweden and South Africa should immediately resign to make way for fresh and more effective means of forcing the Myanmar government to resolve the problem.

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