Fifteen ambassadors from the United Nations Security Council arrived in Myanmar on Monday to begin an investigation of the violence carried out against the Rohingya in Rakhine state during a military crackdown that drove 700,000 members of the Muslim minority group to Bangladesh.
The delegation, led by Security Council President Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, met with Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing after visiting vast displacement camps in Bangladesh where the Rohingya refugees live. Theplomats are slated to head to northern Rakhine state on Tuesday.
During the meeting, Aung San Suu Kyi said Myanmar is ready to accept Rohingya refugees who have been approved for repatriation after officials verify that they lived in Rakhine state before the crackdown, according to a statement issued by her office.
She also said that Myanmar needs Bangladesh’s cooperation to expedite the repatriation process and that the country should submit completed repatriation application forms to Myanmar without further delay.
Aung San Suu Kyi also discussed the government’s provision of humanitarian assistance to all people, the need to build trust in communities, the citizenship process for returning Rohingya, the closure of displacement camps that house Rohingya, the issuance of National Verification Cards for returning refugees, and the enforcement of the rule of law in Rakhine state.
When the diplomats met with Min Aung Hlaing, they asked him about the security situation in Maungdaw and Buithdaung — two of the three townships where the crackdown occurred — the repatriation process, projects on which Myanmar can work with U.N. agencies in Rakhine, and the military’s willingness to act in accordance with the law in the state.
Min Aung Hlaing responded that the army is the only institution that can protect the country and that it will take action against anyone who violates rules and laws.
The Rakhine crisis occurred because of Muslim militants whom he referred to as “terrorists” carried out deadly attacks on 30 police outposts on Aug. 25, 2017, and caused other violence in the northern part of the state, he said.
Myanmar is ready to accept back Rohingya refugees according to an agreement it signed with Bangladesh last November, and the army is ready to work with other institutions according to the government’s directions, Min Aung Hlaing said.
He also told the delegation that the army has been taking action against soldiers who have been found guilty of raping Rohingya girls and women during the crackdown.
The military stands accused of human rights violations that include indiscriminate killings, rape, torture, and arson in Rohingya communities. Both the U.N. and the United States have said that the campaign amounted to ethnic cleansing.
Min Aung Hlaing told the U.N. team that international organizations must be fair to local ethnics — meaning ethnic Rakhine Buddhists — when performing humanitarian work in Rakhine and that they should study the documents and photos that the Myanmar army has provided to them to learn about the on-the-ground situation.
A comprehensive look
Pyone Kaythi Naing, a National League for Democracy lawmaker in the lower house of the national parliament, said the diplomats had planned to meet with six legislators but had to cancel because of a flight delay on account of bad weather.
She also suggested that the delegation meet with various communities and civil society organizations in Myanmar.
“Because the situation in Myanmar is very sensitive and complicated, they need to look comprehensively at the issues from different angles and perspectives,” she said. “The important thing for us is explaining the issue to them in a way that will foster a solution and resolve problems and not create more complications.”
On Tuesday, the U.N. delegation will go to Maungdaw township by helicopter to visit refugee repatriation centers and ethnic Rakhine and Muslim villages, said Maung Maung, deputy director of the Information and Public Relations Department of Rakhine state.
The delegation members will return to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe in the evening and then head to Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw.
‘Things are going slow’
Earlier on Monday, the U.N. delegation met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh at the end of its three-day visit to the country and expressed concern that progress on resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis was moving slowly.
“Myanmar should act in accordance with the agreement it has signed with Bangladesh,” Hasina said during the meeting, according to Ihsanul Karim, the prime minister’s press secretary who relayed the comment to BenarNews, an online affiliate of RFA.
Hasina also told the delegation that the repatriation of the refugees should be done under the supervision of the U.N. and that she expects China, Russia, India, and Japan, to play a major role in resolving the crisis.
“We have been concerned that things are going slow,” Gustavo Meza-Cuadra told a press conference at the airport in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka before the delegation left for Myanmar. “That is the reason the Security Council is here…On our arrival New York, we will continue our discussions. This is one of the issues that is on the top of our agenda.”
Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi, Kuwait’s permanent representative at the U.N. and a member of the delegation, told the media that the situation “cannot remain without solutions.”
“We are determined to find an end and a solution for this crisis” he said. “We are not expecting to have to easily solve this problem very quick[ly]. But all the parties should show commitments to solv[ing] it as soon as possible.”
“We cannot remain silent about it, and when we go back to New York…we will try to explore ways and means to speed up the implementation of the agreement signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar for [the] safe, free, and voluntary and dignified return of the refugees,” he said.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.