CONCERNS about Rakhine state in Myanmar continued to emerge yesterday during Asean-related meetings in Manila, although Southeast Asian countries adhered to a humanitarian-aid framework to deal with the crisis.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “true reconciliation between communities” during a sideline meeting with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday.
United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participates in the East Asia meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila, Philippines 14 November 2017. The Philippines is hosting the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings from 10 to 14 November. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
Guterres kept the emphasis on humanitarian aid as a tool to alleviate the crisis, but added that “safe, dignified, voluntary and sustained returns” were equally essential.
Suu Kyi also met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila to discuss the situation. Tillerson will arrive in Myanmar today for further talks with Myanmar leaders including Suu Kyi again and the military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi looks on during the opening session of the Asean and European Union (EU) Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila, Philippines 14 November 2017. The Philippines is hosting the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings from 10 to 14 November. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
The US has called on Myanmar authorities to protect Rohingya and prepare for their voluntary return from Bangladesh, a senior official with the US State Department said during a press briefing in Manila on Tillerson’s visit.
More than 600,000 Rohinhgya have fled from Rakhine to overwhelmed refugee camps in Bangladesh based on fears of persecution by the Myanmar army and police. The Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also released a report indicating that gang rapes, mass-scale killings and arsons are also involved in the crisis.
The former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has jointly established the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State with the Myanmar Office of the State Counsellor and issued recommendations to address the situation rooted in the centuries-old ethnic conflict.
Guterres also emphasised to Suu Kyi yesterday the importance of implementing the recommendations.
Guterres, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke to Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader a day after he expressed worries about the “protracted tragedy” during the 9th Asean-UN Summit. He welcomed Asean’s provision of humanitarian aid while stressing that “sustainable and inclusive development” was the best way to prevent conflicts and violent extremism.
“It is a worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy and the potential source of instability in this region and radicalisation,” he said. “We [are] also critical to reverse this tragedy,”
During 31st Asean Summit Plenary on Monday, Suu Kyi said in front of leaders that coping with regional terrorism and extremism was “challenging” and called for Asean to “adapt and cooperate” to seek solutions.
According to diplomatic sources, Suu Kyi said Myanmar had established a special committee led by its social minister to implement the Advisory Commission’s recommendations.
While welcoming aid, Myanmar would also start implementing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on repatriation within three weeks after signing it with Bangladesh, she said.
The plenary discussed the issue but did not pressure Myanmar, the sources added, with statements limited to calling for a quick, practical solution to the Rakhine state conflict to prevent regional ripple effects and extremism.
A document from the summit seen by The Nation also noted that the conflict provided an example of the operations of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management.
But Indonesia and Malaysia, two Muslim Asean countries where thousands of Rohingya had fled to, have been relatively strong pushing concerns about protecting the minority.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised Guterres on Monday, during their meeting which focused on the Myanmar crisis, to continue working to resolve the crisis. “The MOU settlement is [also] very important for the repatriation process," Widodo said.
(L-R)Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha link arms as they pose for a family photo during the 12th East Asia Summit on the sideline of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on November 14, 2017. World leaders are in the Philippines' capital for two days of summits. / AFP PHOTO
The Star reported that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had stressed during the plenary that the crisis “had become an international embarrassment to Asean and should be resolved as soon as possible”.
Suu Kyi had told him she “was committed to achieving a long-term solution that would be based on trust and harmony, but that this could not happen overnight”, Najib added.