Myanmar on Wednesday rebuffed a statement issued by the United Nations Security Council that condemns recent violence in northern Rakhine state and calls on the government to end atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, warning that the criticism could "seriously harm" efforts to repatriate the refugees from Bangladesh.
More than 600,000 Rohingya fled northern Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh during a military crackdown following deadly attacks by a Muslim militant group on Aug. 25. Some of those who fled have accused the army and Buddhist mobs of indiscriminate killing, looting, arson, torture, and rape, though the Myanmar government has denied the allegations.
The U.N., rights groups, and other actors in the international community have said the atrocities amount to crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Myanmar has placed strict limits on independent observers’ access to the conflict zone.
The Security Council commended Myanmar and Bangladesh for recently signing agreements and forming a working group to pave the way for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who are living in massive displacement camps in southeastern Bangladesh, and called on Myanmar to permit the voluntary return of all refugees safely to their homes.
The Council urged the governments of both countries to invite the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and relevant international organizations to participate in the working group and on the implementation of the repatriation process. It also called on Myanmar to speed up the voluntary return of internally displaced persons.
“The issuance of the presidential statement ignores the fact that the issues facing Myanmar and Bangladesh today can only be resolved bilaterally, in an amicable manner, between two neighboring states,” the rebuttal statement released by Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said.
“Furthermore, the presidential statement could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously,” it said, without elaborating.
The Security Council failed to pass a resolution condemning the violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine on Monday and instead issued the presidential statement after acquiescing to strong objections by China.
The presidential statement becomes part of the formal record of the council, but it lacks the legal clout of a Security Council resolution.
“Myanmar appreciates the stand taken by some members of the Security Council who upheld the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries,” the Myanmar government’s statement said in a tacit reference to its ally and major investor China.
Last week, the Myanmar government accused Bangladesh of delaying efforts to repatriate the Rohingya refugees by failing to agree to certain terms of a 1993 agreement between the two countries that allows the return of Rohingya who can prove residency in Myanmar.
At the time, Zaw Htay, director general of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office, indicated that Bangladesh’s acceptance of the terms of the agreement hinged upon that country’s receipt of funds from the international community to build large displacement camps for the Rohingya. Bangladesh has denied the accusation.
“[M]yanmar government officials are in close negotiations with the Bangladesh authorities on an arrangement for the return of displaced persons from Rakhine State,” Myanmar’s statement said on Tuesday, adding that Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali has been invited to Myanmar on Nov. 16-18.
“The intention is to reach an agreement satisfactory to both sides during his visit,” the statement said.
“The Government of Myanmar therefore regrets that a Presidential Statement has been issued with regard to a situation that is in the process of being resolved amicably between two neighboring countries,” it said.
Border fence to be fortified
In a related development, the China-ASEAN Economic and Cultural Association will fortify and extend the border fence in Rakhine state that separates Myanmar and Bangladesh to meet international standards, Eleven Myanmar media group reported.
The current fence is constructed of wooden posts and barbed wire.
Association representatives and employees from Myanmar’s Hintha Akari Company arrived in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe on Nov. 7 and met with San Kyaw Hla, chairman of Rakhine state’s parliament, members of the state government, and community leaders from Sittwe to discuss the fence and regional development, the report said.
The association, which is reporting on the situation in Rakhine state, will meet with heads of the government on Nov. 14 to implement their plan, said Nwe Aye, managing director of Hintha Akari, according to the report.
Top government officials in Myanmar began discussing how to strengthen and extend the border fence in September amid clashes between Myanmar security forces and Muslim insurgents that forced tens of thousands of residents — primarily Rohingya Muslims — to flee their homes.
Myanmar discussed the need to improve the fencing and overall border security as a means of keeping out Muslim terrorists who carried out deadly attacks on police outposts and border stations in August and last October, respectively.
On Oct. 24, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed agreements to increase their security cooperation and set up border liaison offices to deal with the exodus of Rohingya who have fled recent violence and are to be repatriated.
Report by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.