Bangladesh’s home minister said Friday that his country’s delegation failed to produce a joint statement with Myanmar during talks with officials in Naypyidaw this week, after both sides disagreed on terminology related to recommendations from a commission led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal met de-facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials during a three-day visit to the neighboring country that was highlighted by the signing of an agreement to cooperate on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.
“At the meetings, we both agreed that there would be a reference that Myanmar will implement the Kofi Annan Commission report. But we saw that they dropped the words on implementation in the joint statement without consulting us,” Khan told BenarNews.
Relations between the two countries have been strained by an inflow of refugees into southeastern Bangladesh that has reached at least 605,000 people since late August, according to U.N. officials.
Khan held talks with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Kyaw Swe, during which they agreed to boost border security and Myanmar pledged to implement recommendations from the Annan Commission that would allow the Rohingya to return to their homes in Rakhine state.
But the Myanmar side apparently changed the language without Bangladesh’s consent, prompting Khan to decline signing the joint statement.
The Annan Commission, officially known as the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, is a nine-member body appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi that issued a report with its final recommendations on Aug. 24, 2017. Among other measures, the commission called for reviews of Myanmar’s Citizenship Law and ending other restrictions on Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority group concentrated in Rakhine.
A key Bangladeshi negotiator, who was with Khan during the meetings, supported the home minister’s allegations.
“They changed the agreed joint statement several times without our consent,” Manjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury, director general of the foreign ministry’s Southeast Asia desk, told BenarNews.
He said Myanmar uploaded the purported joint statement on Facebook without consent from the Bangladeshi side.
“The statement had several mistakes,” he said. “It’s their statement, not ours.”
Khan, during the meeting, expressed concerns that Myanmar described the Rohingya in the statement as “Bengalis.”
“I told them that about 360 million people around the world speak Bengali. Are all of them Bengalis? I made it clear to them that they are not Bengalis; they have been the inhabitants of Rakhine,” Khan said.
Bengali is a derogatory term for Rohingya Muslims who are considered in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The latest influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh began on Aug. 25, when Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents launched near-simultaneous attacks on security posts in Rakhine state, and the Myanmar army responded with a ferocious counter-offensive.
Khan described his talks with Aung San Suu Kyi as “very frank.”
“She was not negative,” he said. “I asked her to take the refugees back to her country. She told us that her government has already started the process.”
“At one stage of the discussion, Suu Kyi said those who crossed into Bangladesh sometimes do not want to come back,” he said, without elaborating.
“We had detailed discussions with them. But I think they would not be interested in doing anything in the absence of international pressure,” he said. “But I want to be optimistic.”
Rohingya influx continues
On Friday, three United Nations human rights experts who led a fact-finding mission that began in March said they were deeply disturbed by accounts of rapes and killings against the Rohingya.
“We have heard many accounts from people from many different villages across Northern Rakhine state,” said Marzuki Darusman, Indonesia’s former attorney-general, who chaired the mission.
“They point to a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.
Meanwhile, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the organization had transferred about 1,700 new refugees to a government-allocated site in southeastern Bangladesh.
Most of them are among the thousands of refugees who trekked for about a week to cross into Bangladesh, only to be stranded in a border village for four days before being allowed to proceed inland.
The relocation started on Tuesday in an effort to decongest a camp in Kutupalong, one of two U.N.-run refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district. About 5,000 new refugees will be moved to the new site, which is part of a larger 3,000-acre plot designated by the government as the Kutupalong Extension, officials said.
Former diplomats and analysts agreed with the home minister that Bangladesh must mobilize international support to pressure Myanmar to take back the Rohingya.
“Actually, Myanmar is a tough country. I do not see any consistency in their words and actions,” Amena Mohsin, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, told BenarNews. “If they drop any portion from the agreed joint statement, this is a ‘gross violation’ of diplomatic norms. This is not acceptable.”
Amena said Bangladesh had acted maturely in dealing the Rohingya issue.
“But I think, resolving the Rohingya issue bilaterally with Myanmar would be very difficult. We have to accelerate the international pressure,” she said.
A career diplomat and vice president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, a private think-tank, said diplomacy was the only way to solve the crisis.
“The home minister has told something and many people may rate his trip a failure. But, at this moment, I do not want to term it a success or a failure, though the Bangladeshi side has not signed the joint statement,” Humayun Kabir told BenarNews.
“I see one positive side of the visit. And it is Bangladesh and Myanmar remained in continued engagement,” Kabir said. “Negotiations have been ongoing. The solution will not come in a day.”