Myanmar is pushing Rohingya repatriation into uncertainty
A week after the ouster of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government media mentioned the Myanmar Military Junta saying, "Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh during a 2017 crisis will continue to be repatriated to Rakhine state". Approximately four months later the military regime outrightly rejected the return of Rohingyas to their home land, during an interview with Hong Kong-based Chinese language broadcaster Phoenix television.
The interviewer asked the regime chief, "whether the Muslims [Rohingyas] could be allowed back to Rakhine State--from where most fled an army crackdown in 2017 that UN investigators said had genocidal intent". The senior general replied, "If it doesn't comply with Myanmar's laws, what else is there to consider? I don't believe there is any country in the world that would go beyond their own country's refugee laws to accept refugees". He also nodded to interviewer's comment that international appeals on behalf of the Rohingya were to no avail.
Here in Dhaka, China's ambassador Mr Li Jiming told a press conference on May 10, 2021 that he did not see any possibility of holding a tripartite meeting (Bangladesh-China-Myanmar) in the "foreseeable future" and has no plan to hold such meeting.
In the early stages of the crisis, China warned not to 'complicate, expand or internationalize the Rohingya issue'. It strongly advocated bilateral solution of the Rohingya crisis between Bangladesh and Myanmar where it held tripartite meeting. Now China seems to have turned its back which eventually falls in line with junta's comment to Phoenix television. Statements of both the Myanmar Junta and the Chinese ambassador on the repatriation of Rohingyas could be mere a coincidence in a span of two weeks but bears the same negative meaning.
Aung Sun Suu Kyi and her party NLD defended her Generals' genocide crime in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at Hague. Suu Kyi's government in compliance with the court order submitted two interim reports to the court before her Senior General deposed and took her into custody. Inferentially, she might have defended her generals in the interim reports too. Now, NLD expresses diametrically opposite views on Rohingyas.
Dr Sasa, a senior leader in the NLD and Myanmar Parliament's Upper House (CRPH) representative to the UN issued a statement on March 26, 2021 after the USA and UK imposed sanction against military owned conglomerates Myanmar Economic Holdings (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). He said that "These sanctions target the source of wealth and income of military generals who have killed innocent people and committed ethnic cleansing against the Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Shan, Mon, Rakhine, Chin and Rohingya. These same Generals are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity."
He also emphatically told the Aljazeera's Upfront on 26 March 2021 that the military has committed genocide against Rohingyas. This is the first time in the history of Myanmar that a senior political leader, used the word 'Rohingya', addressed them as minority and confessed military's genocide crimes against them.
Myanmar's shadow government, the National Unity Government (NUG) issued a statement on June 3, 2021 explaining its "Policy Position on the Rohingya in Rakhine State". NUG set out certain guiding principles for the Federal Democratic Union and regards it "as a basis in addressing the matters related to the Rohingya in Rakhine State". The NUG further clarifies its understanding on "the violence and gross human rights violations inflicted upon Rohingyas by the thuggish military�. The entire people of Burma is sympathetic to the plight of the Rohingya as all now experience atrocities and violence perpetrated by the military. Repatriation and justice will be ensured in the future Federal Democratic Union Constitution".
The NUG commits to actively seek justice and accountability for all crimes against Rohingyas and other communities. The NUG also commits to change controversial Citizenship Law. "The new Citizenship Act must base citizenship on birth in Myanmar or birth anywhere as a child of Myanmar Citizen." The NUG reaffirming to respect the agreement of repatriation process called upon Rohingyas to join hands with NUG and "participate in the Spring Revolution against the military regime in all possible ways".
NUG's policy on Rohingya has angered Rakhine Buddhist Community. The All Arakanese Solidarity Committee (AASC), community leaders and politicians and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) mentioned in a statement that NUG policy does represent Rakhine people. Reaction of the AASC reflects persistent aggressive attitude of Rakhine people toward Rohingya. However, UK based Myanmar Rohingya Association Chairman U Tun Khin said, "I think Rakhine brothers have a little misunderstanding. We would like to hold talks with our Rakhine brothers as well as the NUG. This problem can be solved through negotiations between the NUG, Rakhine and Rohingya. I think Rakhine people will understand when the time comes."
According to the Assistance Association for the Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), the State Administration Council (SAC) forces as of June 3, 2021 killed 845 protesters. While all states and regions have seen protest and resistance against the coup, the Rakhine State seems to have been in agreement with the military regime. Arakan Nationalist Party (ANP) has got a seat in the SAC. Media has not reported any anti-coup demonstration in the Rakhine State. The Arakan Army (AA) which was fighting the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) is on good terms with the regime at least for now.
NLD Government on March 23, 2020 declared AA as terrorist organization and excluded it from national peace talks. SAC removed AA from the list of terrorist. The military regime on June 9, 2021 also acquitted ten people including the brother, sister and brother in law of AA Chief of terrorism charges. They were arrested in 2019. Ethnic Rakhine welcomed the decision to drop AA from terror list. Bamar ethnic majority accused the AA and ethnic Rakhine for collaborating with the junta.
Politics in the Rakhine State is getting new alignments after the military coup making the prospect of Rohingyas return precarious. NUG's invitation to Rohingyas will raise military regime's arrogance against the NUG. The regime will suspect Rohingya community for a possible collusion against it. Rakhine Buddhist community who were radicalized by military regimes to act hostile against Rohingyas and collaborated Tatmadaw's genocide crime are not de-radicalized to accept their return.
The military regime has already made it clear that Rohingyas cannot return to their homeland. China does not seem to be any more interested to mediate repatriation. China, the 'X factor' in Myanmar's political solution will favour a military regime in Nay Pyi Taw which makes it easy to keep the strategic backyard in grip. In the context of evolving political realignments, Rohingyas peaceful and dignified return to Rakhine is suspected to have the risk to hang on uncertainty.
Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a retired Commodore of Bangladesh Navy