Myanmar’s civilian government held a meeting on “national security and international relations” with the country’s military Friday to review an investigation into the crisis in Rakhine state, where a crackdown on Rohingya insurgents displaced hundreds of thousands of members of the Muslim ethnic group.
The meeting came after de facto leader Aung San Su Kyi’s government negotiated a deal to allow the United Nations, which has referred to the crackdown as a form of genocide, to enter Rakhine state to determine when the nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to neighboring Bangladesh during the operation can return to the region.
Rohingya refugees have alleged that Myanmar troops involved in the crackdown committed widespread rape and murder, which the government has denied. Officials in the capital Naypyidaw also say that Rakhine state is safe for the refugees to return, but had refused to grant outside groups access to the region for months.
On Friday, Aung San Su Kyi and the head of Myanmar’s military, Min Aung Hlaing, met with 13 other officials to discuss the Rakhine issue, as well as the formation of a three-member “investigative commission” to look into the allegations of rights abuses, according to a Facebook post by President Win Myint’s office.
The gathering marks the third time Myanmar has convened such a meeting since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government took office in 2016, and the first since the aftermath of the Aug. 25, 2017 attacks by Rohingya militants in Rakhine state that killed nearly a dozen border police and precipitated the military’s crackdown in the region.
Analysts on Friday welcomed the meeting between the government and the military, which ruled the country for nearly five decades until its junta was dissolved in 2011, saying it could lead to greater cooperation between the two power bases.
Min Zin, executive director of Myanmar’s Institute of Strategy and Policy, told RFA’s Myanmar Service it was a “good sign” that the government and military were “working to find common views at a time when international pressure is building on the Rakhine state issue.”
“I don’t think they would have found answers to everything [in their relationship], as there are likely differences on some basic issues, but if they can find some kind of common stance on the Rakhine issue and formulate a policy, it could bring relief for the pressures the country is facing at present,” he said.
“They could smooth out, to a certain extent, some issues over misunderstandings and lack of information shared between various commissions and U.N. agencies, although just one meeting won’t solve all the problems regarding repatriation of refugees and the granting of citizenship to these people.”
Myanmar-based political analyst Tin Maung Than said that regardless of what was discussed, any meeting between the two sides is a step in the right direction.
“We don’t have the details yet, but I think they will have worked together under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership to find solutions to the Rakhine state problem,” he said.
“This is the time to show the world we have the desire to solve it and are working together to do so, as well as to save face in the international arena.”
While Myanmar’s powerful military operates outside of civilian control under a constitution the junta wrote before handing over power, Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government has faced strong international criticism for army actions in Rakhine and in other conflict zones in the multi-ethnic country. Myanmar denials of atrocities repeatedly have been undercut by vivid Rohingya refugee testimony from camps in Bangladesh.
A second political analyst, Yan Myo Thein said he believes the meeting was held to “find a path to free and frank discussions” between the civilian government and the military on the Rakhine issue.
“I think they would be able, from a dialogue like this, to find a lasting solution that would be acceptable to both sides,” he said.
Friday’s meeting also comes ahead of a June 20 session of the International Criminal Court (ICC) during which the judicial body will determine whether to launch an investigation into the crackdown in Rakhine state. Myanmar has said that it is not subject to such a probe, as it is neither a signatory nor a member of the Rome Statute, on which the ICC is based.
While Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to a repatriation deal for the Rohingya in November, only around 1,000 have been cleared for return, and few have expressed interest in going home, citing fears over safety and concerns over rights guarantees because they are not recognized as a minority by the government and denied citizenship.