State Counselor Sends Envoy to Bangladesh over Arakan State Crisis

By Reuters 11 January 2017

RANGOON & DHAKA, Bangladesh — A special envoy of Burma’s leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will begin top-level talks in Bangladesh on Wednesday, as the UN said the Rohingya crisis prompted 65,000 people to flee Burma for Bangladesh in the past three months.

U Kyaw Tin, Burma’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, will make a three-day visit to the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, in a rare diplomatic foray to tackle the biggest challenge facing Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s nine-month old administration.

The stream of new refugees, and reports that Burma’s navy has shot at Bangladeshi fishermen, have further tested historically strained ties between the neighbors, who each see the stateless Rohingya Muslims as the other side’s problem.

The visit marks a shift away from Burma’s reluctant approach to cooperation with its western neighbor, which analysts see as key to solving the growing crisis.

Rohingya insurgents attacked Burma border posts on Oct. 9, killing nine police. In response Burma sent the army into the Muslim-majority northern part of Arakan State.

Residents and refugees have described summary executions, arbitrary arrests and rape in the operation. The government has denied almost all abuse allegations.

During the visit, the neighbors will discuss bilateral relations, but the Burma side was unlikely to bring up the “complicated” issue of border security, said Daw Aye Aye Soe, deputy director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“For the border situation, an operation is still in progress to create stability, so I don’t think there will be a lot of results from this first-time meeting,” she said.

International Pressure

U Kyaw Tin will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday, said a senior official at the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Burma had initiated the visit “so that Bangladesh does not raise pressure on Burma on the Rohingya issue in international forums,” such as an upcoming meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.

Southeast Asia’s Muslim-majority nations, Indonesia and Malaysia, have publicly pressured Burma over the crisis.

“Bangladesh has been persuading and pressing in international forums behind the scenes so as not to hamper the relationship,” the Bangladeshi official said.

Talks between the neighbors are complicated by the fact that as many as 500,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh during decades of persecution in Burma are not recognized as citizens there either.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that by Jan. 5 about 65,000 more people had arrived in Bangladesh since Oct. 9.

Burma’s Daw Aye Aye Soe questioned the UN figure, saying anyone claiming to be a refugee from Burma would have to be scrutinized.

She referred to a longstanding government policy that repatriation talks can only cover 2,415 people in Bangladesh whom Burma recognizes as citizens.

“We need to make sure how many people arrived and where they are from, but no one can confirm exactly,” she said.