Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan has said the Myanmar authorities would not ultimately resolve the Rohingya crisis despite its pledge to do so if the international community stops exerting pressure on Naypyidaw to take concrete steps.
His apprehensions conform to suspicions expressed by the global media and rights activists about Myanmar's sincerity to address the issue of violation of rights of Rohingya people of Rakhine state.
The Myanmar authorities have already outright rejected the recommendations put forth by the Kofi Annan Commission assigned to recommend solutions to problems in Rakhine, the Bangladesh minister pointed out.
Back from a three-day Myanmar visit on 23-25 October, Asaduzzaman also regretted that Naypyidaw backtracked on a 10-point decision it worked out in a consultation with Dhaka during a Myanmar minister's visit to Bangladesh earlier this month, to solve the Rohingya crisis.
He went to Myanmar to negotiate repatriation of Rohingya Muslims who have taken shelter in Bangladesh. The country is burdened with nearly one million Rohingya refugees including over 600,000 new arrivals since 25 August following consistent persecution of Rohingyas in the northern state of Rakhine in Myanmar.
The minister, during his visit, held talks with lieutenant general Kyaw Swe and also made a courtesy call on state councillor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Asaduzzaman Khan talked to Prothom Alo in detail at his secretariat office on Thursday evening. Raheed Ejaz and Rozina Islam took the interview and it has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Prothom Alo (PA): How was your visit to Myanmar?
Asaduzzaman Khan (AK): During the meeting with the Myanmar home minister, I noticed they are calling Rohingyas 'Bangalees'. I told them that as much as 350 million people speak in Bangla. Are all of them Bangalees? We clearly stated that they are not Bangalees. The people of Rakhine state have a long of history of shuttling between Bangladesh and Myanmar. I have asked them to know the history.
PA: What was the outcome of the discussion?
AK: We told them that one million Myanmar nationals entered Bangladesh. It's a huge burden for us. Our forest is being destroyed. Social life is also affected. We are in a disastrous situation. So, take your nationals back as quickly as possible.
PA: What was the reply of the Myanmar home minister?
AK: He said they would take Rohingyas back. Before taking back, they would verify their nationality. Then I told him that there is already a decision as to what should be done regarding the verification of the identities of Rohingyas.
PA: Did you convey the decision taken at the meeting between the Bangladesh foreign minister and the minister of Myanmar State Councillor's Office in Dhaka on 2 October?
AK: Yes. At that meeting, a decision was taken to form a joint working group to solve the crisis. The Joint Working Group will decide how the Rohingyas would be repatriated. I proposed to form the Joint Working Group by 30 November. Later, Myanmar agreed to the proposal. By the time, the jurisdiction of the Joint Working Group will be fixed. The foreign minister will take the next step in this regard later at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
PA: What did they say about the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh?
AK: They didn't differ on any matter. They just said they would take a decision after discussing the matter with the higher authorities. We had insisted that they should work on the basis of the Joint Working Group, Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendations and our prime minister's 5-point proposal placed at the UN General Assembly.
PA: Are they fine with the issue of Kofi Annan Commission?
AK: No, they are repeatedly amending the things there.
PA: What were the issues that came up for discussion with Suu Kyi?
AK: I got a different behaviour from the home minister while talking Suu Kyi. She said nothing negative. She nodded her head whatever we said. Discussion was open.
PA: What did you discuss with Suu Kyi?
AK: I told her that Bangladesh does not produce drugs. Drugs from Myanmar are ruining our young generation. Suu Kyi said Yaba has also been a problem in Myanmar. They are anxious over it.
PA: What did you discuss with her on Rohingya issue?
AK: I told her that both Bangladesh and Myanmar will fall in trouble if Rohingyas stay in Bangladesh for long. If Rohingyas fall into the trap of extremists, we will not be able to control them. So, 'it’s our request to you to take steps to bring back Rohingyas'. Suu Kyi said she has started working as per the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission. She is taking initiative so that the Rohingyas do not come back to Bangladesh once they are taken back to the Rakhine state. She is also thinking about the livelihoods of the Rohingyas.
PA: Did Suu Kyi give you any new proposal?
AK: At one stage of discussion, she said it was found in the past that after returning to Rakhine state, Rohingyas entered Bangladesh again. Rohingyas may not go to Bangladesh again if a village is built up ensuring all the facilities for them in Myanmar. She spoke of building 'internally displaced persons (IDP)' village for Rohingyas.
PA: Look, Myanmar already took internally displaced Rohingyas to IDP camps.
AK: She didn't spoke of IDP camp, rather she spoke of IDP village. The Rohingyas will be kept in that village in a specific place providing all facilities.
PA: Did Myanmar backtrack on the 10-point decision which includes full implementation of Annan Commission’s recommendations and bringing an immediate end to the Rohingya influx into Bangladesh? These two key issues were missing in the circular Myanmar published on your visit
AK: The Myanmar government dropped those matters whereas those were the common decisions after the meeting. Our ambassador asked me what he should do. I told our ambassador not to sign the meeting minutes if the Annan Commission’s recommendations are not included. Accordingly, we did not sign it.
PA: How will you evaluate Myanmar’s position?
Ak: Look, Myanmar will not take any initiative to solve the crisis if the international pressure does not continue. And that’s why we didn’t sign the meeting minutes. We clearly stated that the matter of Annan Commission’s recommendation must be included in the minute.
PA: Did you mention in your discussion that the atrocities committed by the Myanmar army on the Rohingyas are genocide?
AK: I didn't call it genocide. I called it a brutality. Suu Kyi told me to encourage Rohingyas to return home as they are not willing to return home. I told her that you know well why they do not want to return. They do not want to return because a peaceful atmosphere does not exist there.
PA: Did they take it easily when you described Rohingyas as Myanmar nationals as Myanmar does not recognise them as their citizens?
AK: We explained to them that the ancestors of Rohingyas had been living in Myanmar for several hundred years. They were also born there. Which country do they belong to if they are not the residents of Myanmar?
In this context, I couldn't but mention one thing. During the meeting with the Myanmar home minister, an army general all of a sudden started giving his own opinions on Rohingyas in breach of diplomatic norms. The general said these people are Bangalees. The British brought them from Bangladesh to Myanmar for cultivation. Our ambassador told the general that Rakhine state was up to Chittagong. The language the Rohingyas speak is not Bangla. It is the language of Rakhine region. Afterwards, that general got deflated.
PA: Did Myanmar hand over any list of ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) to Bangladesh?
AK: They said they would give me a list. Asking the inspector general of police (IGP), I came to know that a list was given to him, but that is not complete.
PA: How many people are in the list?
AK: They have spoken of about 500 people, but the IGP informed me about a list of 200 people. However, I'm not sure about it.
PA: Did you raise the issue of planting landmines across Bangladesh-Myanmar border?
AK: Militants might have planted the landmines. However, the Myanmar army and the police will remove them.
PA: How far are you hopeful about the solution to the crisis?
AK: Experience says that they will not do anything easily. If the international pressure continues, they will be compelled to solve the crisis.
PA: Thank you.
AK: Thank you too.