The Myanmar government said it hopes to send a special diplomatic team led by the deputy foreign minister to Bangladesh later this month amid increasing tension with the neighboring country over the tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar following violence that began in northern Rakhine state in early October.
“It is possible that a Myanmar special diplomatic team will travel to Bangladesh this month when the Bangladesh prime minister and foreign affairs minister are available to meet them,” said Kyaw Zayya, director general of Myanmar’s foreign affairs ministry, on Thursday.
“We will arrange it through discussions with their government,” he said. “The deputy foreign affairs minister will possibly lead the team. The team will have only three or four members, but it is difficult to say the exact date of the travel.”
A previous trip arranged in December failed to materialize after it was postponed for security reasons.
Bangladesh’s foreign affairs ministry has complained several times to Myanmar about the influx of 50,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Rakhine after deadly attacks on Myanmar border guard stations in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships on Oct. 9, and sought refuge in Bangladesh.
Members of the stateless minority group have left northern Rakhine in droves since soldiers and police locked down the area after the attacks, which the Myanmar government has blamed on Muslim insurgents.
On Dec. 30, the Myanmar government said it would take back 2,415 of its citizens living in Bangladesh—a small number of the 300,000 people who Bangladesh says are Myanmar citizens who have taken refuge there and should return home, Reuters reported.
Bangladesh has refused to grant the Rohingya refugee status because it considers them citizens of Myanmar, while Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has denied then citizenship and access to basic services for decades.
Proper channels for aid
In a related development, Myanmar’s foreign affairs ministry has informed the embassies of some member states of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that their countries should submit proposals to provide for cash and in-kind support for Rakhine through proper diplomatic channels.
A statement issued on Thursday by Myanmar’s State Counselor’s Office said the ministry will work with the Rakhine state government and its ministry of social welfare, relief and resettlement to distribute supplies that should be meant without any distinction for both Rohingya Muslim and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists living in the western state.
“The Rakhine state government will distribute the assistance to both communities,” the statement said.
Indonesia and Malaysia—both predominantly Muslim countries and ASEAN members— called on Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to the areas affected by violence when they and other ASEAN states met with her on Dec. 19 to discuss the crisis in northern Rakhine.
The government’s statement appears to be directed, however, at a Malaysian Muslim organization that plans to send boats laden with 200 metric tons of rice, medical aid, and essential supplies for Rohingya Muslim communities on Jan. 10.
The Myanmar government opposes the flotilla because the organization has not obtained permission to enter its territory to deliver supplies, and has said that such plans should be made between the governments of each country.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said last Wednesday that the Muslim group from Malaysia had to obtain permission to enter Myanmar when its boats arrived or risk being stopped or attacked by Myanmar security forces, and its crew deported.
Myanmar’s home affairs minister Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe on Dec. 30 called the plans for the food flotilla an “insult.”
The Indonesian government has already sent 10 shipping containers of food, baby food, and clothes for Rohingya affected by the violence.
The statement issued by the State Counselor’s Office said the Indonesian government had officially proposed the delivery of humanitarian aid according to the policies of the Myanmar government, and that the two nations are undertaking necessary distributions.
Security forces make arrests
In Rakhine, authorities arrested one militant trainer and three trainees and seized 14 homemade guns on Wednesday in Maunggyitaung village in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung township, the State Counsellor’s Office said.
The men, who had completed an insurgent military training course, were carrying weapons near the village when security forces blocked entry routes to intercept them, said a statement issued by the office.
Security forces detained Mamad Karat, the trainer, and the three trainees—Kumuru, De Mamud, and Mardular—it said.
“After an interrogation that resulted in confessions, security forces searched for weapons and captured 14 handmade guns in a field of betel palms which belonged to De Mamud at about 2 p.m.,” the statement said, adding that legal action would be taken against the men.
Authorities have detained roughly 600 people in connection with the raids during which nine officers were killed and subsequent violence between security forces and armed men in northern Rakhine. Nearly 90 others have been killed in the crackdown.
Meanwhile, rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), have accused Myanmar of attempting to cover up abuses against Rohingya villagers allegedly perpetrated by security forces in northern Rakhine, a day after an investigation commission said it found no evidence to support accusations of genocide or repression.
Rohingya from the areas affected by violence have accused security forces of executions, arbitrary arrests, rape, and arson during their security operations in search of attackers. The government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has denied the allegations, but formed the commission to investigate them in response to pressure from the international community.
Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said on Wednesday that the government “remains curiously intransigent” concerning allegations of serious abuses in northern Rakhine state, which has been largely closed to outside observers since the October attacks.
“[N]umerous other rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, rape, and the destruction of villages await proper investigation and appropriate prosecution,” he said in a statement. “Ultimately, this case may be yet another attempt to keep the lid on crimes being committed by security forces in locked-down northern Rakhine state.”
There was no immediate response from the Myanmar government to the latest criticisms.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.