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Myanmar: All round Pressure on the Rohingya Issue:

Paper No. 6565                  Dated   14-July-2019

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

A month ago, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that it plans to initiate pretrial proceedings in what could be termed as a ‘legal action’ against the top Myanmar Military leadership including its chief.  It is the contention of the United Nations that driving away the Rohingyas now numbering over 1.1 million amounted to “Ethnic Cleansing” with a genocidal intent.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on her return from China told the Press on 8th July that the Chinese leaders had assured her that China would ‘prod’ Myanmar to hasten the repatriation.

It is true that Hasina raised the issue of Rohingyas with the Chinese President Xi Jinping on 5th of July and she said so on her return from China that she has been promised that China would persuade Myanmar.

While Hasina conceded that China had always been with Myanmar, they (China) have realized that the stay of the Rohingya in Bangladesh is a big trouble for Bangladesh.

While speaking on the issue, Hasina took objection to a statement made by a US Representative Bradley Sherman on June 13 suggesting that Washington should consider merging Rakhine State with Bangladesh. She insisted that Bangladesh does not need any more territory than what it has and that her main approach had all along been “Friendship to all and Malice to none.”- a laudable approach indeed.

So far Hasina has been careful and had not raised a hue and cry over the presence of over a million refugees in southern part of her country but even her patience is being tested by Myanmar Government!

In an attempt to assuage the international feelings and to give the impression that Myanmar is ready to accept the returning Rohingyas, it is sending a high-level delegation to the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh to explain how they can return home.  Myanmar’s Ambassador said that 30000 Rohingyas have so far requested for return of whom 13,000 have been verified as former residents and that they can return to Rakhine anytime.

With the refugees insisting on return with dignity, full security and citizenship and Myanmar insisting on full verification it is very doubtful whether any of the refugees would ever return to Rakhine State 

With near stalemate in the return of the refugees and continuing international pressure on Myanmar, two developments are likely to take place.  Myanmar will be forced go more tightly into the lap of China for protection as it had happened before.  China gains much more.   Major concessions in Kyaukphyu port over which there are complaints already of lack of transparency may be given. Revival of Myitsone dam may be allowed despite stiff protests from the people of the Kachin region.

In order to avoid getting bullied by China on the BRI projects, Myanmar had pace three conditions on the projects initiated by China under the BRI.  These were

  1. Myanmar is allowed to seek financing from International Financial Institutions.
  1. Myanmar Government is allowed to invite International tenders.

        3.  The proposed projects must be chosen by Myanmar.

Myanmar may no longer be able to insist on these conditions once they are driven to the mercy of the Chinese by international actions/sanctions

A more serious development will be that an “Asian” version of Palestine is likely to emerge in the southern tip of Bangladesh with its attendant security problems not only for Bangladesh but for India and Myanmar too.  Already Sheikh Hasina has warned that the security and stability of the region will be hampered.

On the ethnic front, the Army has extended its unilateral cease fire for another two months ending now on August 31.  The Army Spokesperson said that the move was aimed at fostering constructive peace talks with those that have not signed the National Cease fire Agreement or even the bilateral deals with the Army. 

It looked as though the Army was not willing to extend the cease fire initially and maybe it has done it again at the behest of China.  No doubt the ceasefire has hardly been maintained and there have been clashes particularly with the KIA.

The Western Command had been excluded as before in the cease fire and the Army is seen to be pouring in troops and equipment in the Arakan area.  There have been more clashes in Rathdaung, Kyauktaw townships on 7th of July. There have been heavy casualties on both sides and it looks that the intensity of fighting between the Myanmar Army and of the Arakan Army will continue to be on the same scale as before though talks are going on with Government and the Northern Alliance of which the Arakan Army is a part of it.

The Myanmar Army is back to its old ways and have taken to burning houses of innocent villagers in the Rakhine.  This has been observed in two villages in Alel Chaung and Amyet Taung.  With renewed fighting, the total number of internally displaced persons in Arakan area has risen to 50,000.

On 30th June the Government’s Peace delegation met the four representatives of the Northern Alliance to discuss the peace process.  The Government Representatives said that the meeting was more productive than expected.

In the course of the meeting during the 30th anniversary of cease fire in Mongla Special Region in Eastern Shan State, the Army is said to have given a draft for a bilateral cease fire agreement with the four groups. The main demand of the Army is said to be that the four ethnic armed organisations of the Northern Alliance should return to their original bases.  This would mean that they would insist that the Arakan Army should go back to its old headquarters in Kachin area and not have anything to do with the Rakhine State.  This may not be acceptable to the Arakan Army.

Separately little progress has been made on the bilateral talks between the Government and the Arakan Army.  The President’s Office had repeatedly assured even as late as 9th of July that the Arakan Army Representatives will be given full protection while visiting  specified Government locations for initiating the political dialogue. 

 It now transpires that the Police had already registered “terrorism” cases against the top leaders of the Arakan Army.  It is now admitted that the cases will be dealt with according to law which means that while one arm of the Government would swear to give protection, another arm of the Government would take steps to arrest and prosecute the top leadership of the Arakan Army.  In this state of “lack of trust” between the Government and the Arakan Army, there is little chance of any peace talks succeeding leave alone a ceasefire!