‘Bridging the divide on Rohingya issue a huge challenge’

ASEAN+ January 04, 2018 06:54

By The Nation

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The huge difference in perception of the situation in Rakhine state between the Myanmar side and the international community may create obstacles in making concerted efforts to tackle the Rohingya crisis, Surakiart Sathirathai, chairman of the Advisory Board on the Implementation of Recommendations on Rakhine State, said on Wednesday.

Surakiart was chosen by Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi last year to offer advice on the implementation of the report by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to end the crisis.

Annan had submitted his final report on the Rakhine crisis in August last year, around the time a militant group had attacked security outposts in the state.

The attack prompted a tough reaction from the Myanmar military, which killed more than a hundred of people. More than 600,000 people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, accusing the military of perpetrating atrocities.

The international community, including the UN, accused Myanmar authorities of mishandling the situation and its “clearance operation” was seen as an attempt at ethnic cleansing to force the Muslim Rohingya out of the country.

Surakiart on Wednesday discussed the situation and his work with Mark Field, Britain’s Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Field was in Bangkok on Wednesday and held discussions with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on bilateral ties between Thailand and UK.

The UK minister, who oversees Asia Pacific affairs, emphasised the importance of repatriation of the Rohingya to Rakhine state and believed they must have the right to Myanmar citizenship as well as necessary humanitarian assistance, Surakiart revealed.

“Citizenship for displaced persons is important but it would take time to verify their nationality,” Surakiart said, adding, “the experience of many Asean countries on the matter would be useful.”

The international community should provide assistance on education for displaced persons as well as in the Myanmar language so as to enable them to assimilate in the society, said Surakiart, who refrained from using any particular name for the group referred to as “Bengalis” by Myanmar authorities.

Surakiart also briefed Field on his working process and procedure and that there would be a meeting of the advisory board in Nya Pyi Taw late this month.

“The key problem is that there is a big gap between Myanmar’s and the international community’s interpretation of the situation and the problems in Rakhine state, which may create obstacles in making concerted efforts to help those who need immediate assistance,” he said.

A major task for the advisory board is to bridge the gap in order to mobilise cooperation to solve the problems, he said.

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