THE ASEAN BLOC is standing by Myanmar for repatriation of thousands of Rohingya from Bangladesh despite grave concerns raised by leaders and partners at the summit even as the refugees yesterday continued to resist the return.
The Asean chairman’s statement issued after the summit indicated that the group noted the recent agreement reached by Bangladesh and Myanmar to repatriate the first batch of verified refugees to Myanmar. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who chaired the summit, said Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders have expressed their respective positions on the matter.
“I think Myanmar understands the anxiety the other countries feel about the matter, and I believe State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi made an effective pitch expressing the complexity of the situation and how Myanmar tries its best in order to make some progress,” Lee told a press conference after the summit yesterday.
Under the agreement between Dhaka and Nay Pyi Taw, 485 Rohingya families – a total of 2,260 people – are to be returned to Myanmar starting by the middle of this month. Myanmar has said that it will process 150 returnees per day.
Speaking to The Nation by phone, Siyeed Alam, chairman of Rohingya Association in Thailand, said many so-called verified Rohingya did not want to return to strife-torn Rakhine state as authorities have given them no guarantee of safety. “Many of them are now hiding in the jungle as officials are forcing them to return to their homes in Myanmar,” he said. “The repatriation is unlikely to happen on |schedule.” Reports on the repatriation were confused yesterday. Trucks and buses were seen preparing to load the refugees. But as some refugees resisted, only those willingly to go back to Myanmar will be repatriated through land at Ghumdhum point of Bandarban, journalists were told by Mohammad Abul Kalam, Rehabilitation and Relief Commissioner, at a press briefing in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh yesterday morning.
Rather than just simply pouring support behind the Myanmar government over the repatriation, Asean observers should go there to see what happens next, Rohingya leader Siyeed said. More than 700,000 people have been taking refuge in Bangladesh since August last year when a militant attack on security posts in Rakhine state prompted a disproportionate military “clearance operation”.
The violence killed thousands of people, including a huge number who were victims of atrocities, including massacres, rapes and arson. The United Nations investigations indicated that genocide took place and called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Leaders of Asean and partners reportedly used strong language in addressing the issue in meetings and conversations with Suu Kyi. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Suu Kyi attempted to defend what is indefensible.
“I did mention the situation in Rakhine state. We urge efforts should be made to correct the wrongdoings,” he told Malaysian media on the sidelines of the summit.
Asean leaders in their statement said they wanted to see full implementation of a memorandum of understanding signed among Myanmar, the UN High Commission for Refugees and UN Development Programme to facilitate the repatriation process. Rohingya representatives should be invited to participate in examining and monitoring the repatriation process, said Thai Rohingya leader Siyeed.
Leaders of Asean and partners from Asia Pacific also yesterday discussed various regional and global issues, including the contentious South China Sea and creation of the world’s largest free-trade area better known as the China-centred Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. There was no major breakthrough on the two issues, leaving the task for Thailand as the next chair to carry on.
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong applauds as Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha holds up the gavel during the closing ceremony of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore on November 15, 2018. AFP PHOTO
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said during the chairmanship handover ceremony that Thailand would steer Asean with the theme “advancing partnership for sustainability” in 2019.