Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has said Bangladesh is cautiously gauging Myanmar army’s gesture towards remaining Rohingya population at their homeland in bordering Rakhine province as reports suggest the military apparently took overnight a reconciliatory approach towards the ethnic minority community.
“It’s welcoming,” he said in an exclusive interview with BSS as reports coming from other side of the border said regional military commanders today visited for the third consecutive day the Muslim Rohingya community at their abode in Rakhine.
The reports suggest the military commanders visibly made an effort to dispel the Rohingyas growing anxiety afresh after the army takeover in the country as a brutal 2017 army crackdown forced over a million of them to flee their home.
The situation at that time forced Bangladesh to extend the forcibly displaced people to provide makeshift shelter at bordering Cox’s Bazar but simultaneously launched a desperate campaign for their safe and dignified return.
Momen said Dhaka decided to “approach directly” the new Myanmar government to resume talks over Rohingya repatriation as soon as whenever it set in while China previously extended a mediatory hand under a tripartite negotiation.
The coup forced postponement of a scheduled tripartite working group meeting on February 4 and Dhaka could not communicate with Naypyidaw, which showed positive gestures to take back their nationals during the last secretary level tripartite virtual talk held on January 19.
Aid officials and Rohingya representatives in Cox’s Bazar said they received information from acquaintances across the border that Myanmar military’s regional commanders in Rakhine visited Aung Minglar Quarter in Sittew , one of the 19 others isolated IDP camps in central Rakhine since the anti-Rohingya communal violence of 2012, on Wednesday with some succor as a reconciliatory approach.
They said the military commanders yesterday visited two mosques – Hazi Ali Mosque and Shah Shuja Mosque – while they visited the Rohingya abodes today as well asking them to stay indoors during curfews.
According to the information a regional army commander in Rakhine pledged that the military would solve all the Rohingya problems step by step and held responsible the ousted Aung Sun Suu Kyi-led NLD government for what happened to them in 2017.
It was also reported that Myanmar military officials in Rakhine also indicated the existing restrictions on Rohingya movements would be eased shortly.
Officials in Dhaka said their information gathered through diplomatic and other channels substantiated the reports from borders.
The Myanmar’s new military administration sent letters to all foreign missions in Naypyidaw including Bangladesh embassy in an efforts to justify the army takeover as a constitutional responsibility in view of alleged rigging in the country’s last general elections.
The foreign minister said Myanmar’s new military regime was exposed to international criticism, a situation which could prompt them to repatriate Rohingyas from Bangladesh to lighten pressures particularly from the western world.
Momen said such outreach activity could be seen as military junta’s desire to gradually bring back normalcy in the Rakhine state.
But, he said, it was “too early to comment” whether such gesture was indicative of Myanmar military’s soften attitude towards the Rohingyas but it was likely to build trust among them for subsequent reconciliation.
Myanmar military seized state power detaining the country’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, toppling her government on Monday and declared an one-year state emergency.
The sudden development came as Bangladesh was spearheading a desperate campaign for safe return of some 1.1 million Rohingyas.
Bangladesh, however, intensified security vigil on Myanmar borders to prevent Rohingya influx afresh amid speculations about impacts of military takeover on the rest of the minority Rohingyas there.
The foreign minister said that if Myanmar military decided to gradually normalize the situation in northern and central Rakhine, it would send positive signal to Rohingyas sheltered in the Cox’s Bazar camps and pave ways for their voluntary repatriation.
“Such confidence building measures will at least eliminate possibility of further exodus of existing Rohingyas from northers Rakhine,” he said.
Momen recalled that Rohingyas were ousted from their home in 1970s and 1990s while their repatriations took place when the country was under military rules in 1978 and 1992.
“The last two repatriation had taken place when military was in the state power in Myanmar. (So) I am optimistic,” he said.
But Momen predicted that it could take time to understand what would the approach of the new regime on Rohingya and Rakhine issues this time.
“We need to have patience and carefully assess the gradually unfolding developments,” he added.
But he expected the existing bilateral agreements regarding Rohingya repatriation would remain valid since the instruments were signed between two governments not with any individual.
Bangladesh so far provided the neighbour biometric data of 8,30,000 Rohingyas while the Myanmar authority so far verified only 42,000 of them.
Myanmar, however, is yet to return a single Rohingya while repatriation attempts failed twice due to trust deficit among the Rohingyas about their safety and security in Rakhine state.