Myanmar rejects demand to establish ‘safe zone’ for Rohingyas

  • News Desk,
    Published: 2019-09-29 17:01:03 BdST


Myanmar has rejected calls to establish a 'safe zone' for its minority Muslim Rohingya community and urged Bangladesh to carry out the repatriation of the refugees in accordance with a bilateral agreement between the neighbouring countries.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Kyaw Tint Swe, Myanmar's minister for the office of the state counsellor, said, "Issues between neighbours can and must be resolved bilaterally in an amicable and friendly manner."

"There have been persistent calls to put pressure on Myanmar. There is also a call to set up a 'safe zone' inside Myanmar. Such a demand is neither warranted nor workable."

Bangladesh is currently hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingyas. Over 700,000 Rohingyas sought shelter in Cox's Bazar following August 2017 military crackdown in the Rakhine State that the UN termed “ethnic cleansing”.

Despite attempts to repatriate the refugees, no-one returned to their homeland citing Myanmar's failure to create conditions conducive to their “voluntary, safe and dignified” return.

But Swe rejected the notion that the conditions around Rohingya repatriation be set by anyone other than Myanmar and Bangladesh. The two nations signed an agreement in late 2017 to address the issue, which according to Swe is the ‘only feasible way to resolve the issue of the displaced persons’.

Highlighting cooperation with Bangladesh, the UN and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the minister said, “Our priority now is to expedite repatriation and to create a more conducive environment for verified returnees.”

He also warned of "destructive movements in the camps aimed at preventing repatriation" and said the displaced people who had been living in Rakhine state “have a different legal status.”

Those who qualify for citizenship will be issued with citizenship cards. The rest will receive National Verification Cards which he likened to the “green card” issued to immigrants in the United States.

Some 300 people have already returned to Myanmar of their own volition ‘despite obstacles, including killings and threats by ARSA,’ he added.

He added, pointedly: "We do not respond well to coercion that is removed from the fairness and consideration due to a sovereign independent member of the family of nations."

The minister also rebuffed calls for the International Criminal Court's involvement in any probes into military abuse of Rohingya in Rakhine state. Myanmar is not a party to the court and Swe said an investigation by the country's military recently produced an announcement that "suggests that there will soon be a court martial."

In her address to the UN on Sept 27, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina underscored the magnitude of the Rohingya crisis and warned that it is becoming a threat for the entire region.

“I would request the international community to understand the untenability of the situation.  The crisis is now going beyond the camps. Despite our all efforts to contain it, the crisis is now becoming a regional threat,” she said.

The Bangladesh leader also pointed to problems with health and security in the area due to congestion and environmental degradation.

She also said health and security are becoming problems as congestion and environmental problems increase.

"We are bearing the burden of a crisis which is Myanmar's own making. It is an issue solely between Myanmar and its own people, the Rohingyas. They themselves have to resolve it. Voluntary return of the Rohingyas to their homes in Rakhine state in safety, security and dignity is the only solution to the crisis," said Hasina.