ASEAN will Continue to Support Myanmar in Resolving Rakhine Issues

By The Irrawaddy 15 November 2018

YANGON—Ten-member Southeast Asian bloc, ASEAN, has announced that it will continue its support for Myanmar in efforts to ensure “sustainable and equitable” development in Rakhine State, where violence which spurred an exodus of Rohingya Muslims to nearby Bangladesh was labeled by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing.

The chairman’s statement from the 33rd ASEAN Summit held from Nov. 12- 15 in Singapore added that the bloc will also continue to help Myanmar to bring peace, stability and rule of law to the area and to help promote harmony and reconciliation among the various communities there.

Rakhine State, especially near its northern border, has been reeling from sectarian violence, mainly between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine, since 2012. Last year, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to nearby Bangladesh after security forces’ clearance operations in the area following Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on police outposts there.

The fleeing Muslims accused the security forces of rape, arbitrary killings and arson attacks on their properties, causing an international outcry for action to be taken against those who committed the atrocities. They also condemned the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, for staying silent on the issue, accusing her of failure to use her moral authority.

On Wednesday, US Vice President Mike Pence grilled her during their brief meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit, pressing the point that the persecution of the Rohingya was “without excuse” and asking her about progress in resolving the issue.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi responded, “We can say that we understand our country better than any other country does. And I’m sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your own country better than anybody else does.”

The statement released by the chairman of the summit on Thursday said the humanitarian situation in Rakhine was a matter of concern but added that ASEAN stands ready to support Myanmar in its repatriation of Rohingya who voluntarily want to return to the country.

On the same day, Bangladesh and Myanmar intended to start the repatriation process for the first batch of verified displaced persons. Instead, the Rohingya held a protest, saying they would never return to Myanmar without their (Myanmar) citizenship being officially granted. No refugees came forward for repatriation.

Myanmar authorities on Thursday evening said the repatriation is still open and that they have no comments on the protests staged.

The summit statement said ASEAN welcomes the invitation extended by Myanmar to the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre) to dispatch a needs-assessment team to identify possible areas of cooperation in Rakhine State in order to facilitate the repatriation process.

“We also welcomed Myanmar’s commitment to ensuring safety and security for all communities in Rakhine State as effectively as possible, and to facilitating the voluntary return of displaced persons to Myanmar in a safe, secure and dignified way,” it said.

The statement also stressed that Myanmar must find a comprehensive and durable solution to

address the root causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment for the affected communities to rebuild their lives by fully implementing the remaining recommendations of the Advisory Commission’s Report on Rakhine State.

“We expect the Independent Commission of Enquiry established by the government of Myanmar to seek accountability by carrying out an independent and impartial investigation of the alleged human rights violations and related issues,” it added.