Myanmar's agreement to receive a delegation from the United Nations Security Council is a positive step towards improving relations with the international community, which has been highly critical of the Southeast Asian nation for months over its handling of the Rohingya crisis, former politicians and other officials said Wednesday.
The decision on Monday comes after Myanmar's months-long refusal to allow an independent U.N.-mandated mission into the country to investigate reports of major atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims during a crackdown by the military in Rakhine state.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh during the crackdown. Survivors, witnesses, and rights groups have widely documented extrajudicial killings and incidents of torture, rape, and arson by soldiers who targeted Rohingya communities in response to deadly attacks by a Muslim militant group late last August.
Both the Myanmar government and the military have denied that the army committed the atrocities.
The U.N. has charged that the campaign amounted to ethnic cleansing, while its human rights investigator for Myanmar said it bore the hallmarks of genocide.
The details of the visit have yet to be hammered out, and it remains unknown if the delegation will be allowed into Rakhine state.
Nevertheless, the chairman of a Myanmar-appointed panel set up to advise Aung San Suu Kyi on the Rakhine crisis expressed his approval that the country has agreed to receive the U.N. Security Council delegation.
Surakiart Sathirathai, a former deputy prime minister of Thailand who chairs the advisory board, said he was pleased by the news during a press conference in Singapore after he and his colleagues met with Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw.
Veteran U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson resigned from the panel in January, criticizing it as a whitewash and accusing Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he had considered a long-time friend, of lacking moral leadership. He also questioned Sathirathai's commitment to implementing the recommendations on Rakhine state issued by an earlier panel chaired by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
Sathirathai also commended Bangladesh for agreeing to let Win Myat Aye, Myanmar's minister of social welfare, relief, and resettlement, visit border camps where Rohingya refugees live.
Myanmar political analyst Yan Myo Thein called the Myanmar government's decision to allow in the Security Council an important step forward in the country's international relationship with the U.N.
I think Myanmar can build more trust and understanding with the international community, he told RFA's Myanmar Service. I believe this good relationship will support Myanmar's economic development as well.
Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have reportedly been invited to observe the visit by the U.N. delegation, he said.
Though ASEAN has a stated policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of its 10 member countries, a group of regional lawmakers took the organization's members to task in November for failing to confront the Rakhine crisis during the ASEAN summit in Manila, saying their inaction was a blow to the bloc's credibility and threatened the security of all member nations.
Easing the pressure
Myanmar's former information minister Ye Htut said the visit by the U.N. Security Council delegation would ease some of the pressure on the country imposed by the international community over the crisis.
The international community has asked us to accept back the Rohingya refugees and grant them the right of citizenship, he said. As long as Myanmar cannot do everything the international community has asked of it, it will face pressure.
But Ye Htut cautioned that State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi must find a way to win the support of ethnic Rakhine residents of the religiously and ethnically divided state before the delegation arrives.
The problem can get worse by agreeing to the U.N. Security Council's visit without the support of the Rakhine ethnics, he said.
Though Myanmar has agreed to repatriate Rohingya refugees who want to voluntarily return to northern Rakhine, officials have verified and approved only 500-some names on an initial list of more than 8,000 provided by Bangladesh.
The U.N. and rights groups have warned that Rohingya who return will continue to face systematic discrimination, if not violence, in Myanmar where they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denied citizenship and access to basic services.
The likelihood of a call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address Myanmar's handling of the crisis has receded now that the body's members will visit the country, Ye Htut said.
The U.N. Security Council has discussed the Rohingya crisis several times since August 2017, and U.N. agencies have condemned the actions of the Myanmar military and the government's refusal to acknowledge or stop them.
Former Rakhine state chief minister Maung Maung Ohn told RFA that if the Security Council and the Myanmar government can work together, their cooperation would result in more development in the poor region that could resolve its problems.
In the past, most international officials visited places that were selected in advance and met people whom they were told in advance to meet, he said. It will not be effective if they [the Security Council delegates] come to Myanmar and do the same.
When I served as Rakhine state's chief minister, I mostly permitted international officials to travel wherever they wanted, but they went only to places where they could meet people who would tell them what they wanted to hear, he said. How freely the officials will be able to travel this time will depend on how much trust the Myanmar authorities and the U.N. Security Council members can build.
IDP camp visits
On Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as Myanmar's foreign affairs minister, met with Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who is on a weeklong visit to the country.
During their meeting in Naypyidaw, they discussed humanitarian programs to be linked with development, capacity building, education, the empowerment of women, and ways to enhance cooperation between Myanmar and the U.N., the official Myanmar News Agency reported.
Mueller is observing the humanitarian requirements that have been caused by conflict not only in Rakhine state, but also in Shan and Kachin states in the north, where fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups has displaced tens of thousands of residents.
On Wednesday, Mueller met with Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine leaders in the state capital Sittwe, and members of the state government. She also visited local internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that house Muslims who fled communal violence in 2012.
She talked with people who temporarily live near the [Dar Paing Muslim] refugee camp, not with refugees who live in the camp, said camp official Thein Aung.
Mueller's visit coincided with one by Scot Marciel, U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, who met at the Sittwe Hotel with seven Muslim administrative officials from the Thetkaibyin IDP camp.
We told him about our hardships in the camp, suffering for six years, said Kyaw Hla Aung, who spoke with Marciel.
We told the envoy how badly we need health care and schools in the camp, he said. And we told him to ask the government to let some 500 students who had completed the matriculation exams to attend colleges in other states and regions because they are not permitted to attend Sittwe University.
The seven camp leaders prepared to meet Marciel in a teahouse inside the camp, but they received a phone call around 8 p.m. on Monday and were informed that the ambassador and his team would not be allowed in Thetkaibyin camp, Kyaw Hla Aung said. Instead they were invited to meet the American delegation at the hotel.
I told him he would have seen with his own eyes the reality of our lives and how we are struggling if he could have visited the camp, he said We told him to try to get there in the future. We told him we want to return to our former homes, and we asked him to raise the matter with Naypyidaw.
Marciel also met with leaders from the Arakan National Party, a political party that represents the interests of the ethnic Rakhine people in Rakhine state, to discuss their views on the repatriation of the Rohingya.
Rakhine lawmakers table motion
Also on Tuesday, some members of the Rakhine state parliament urged the government not to resettle returning Rohingya in southern Maungdaw township, a majority-Muslim area that was the focal point of the crackdown along with neighboring Buthidaung and Ratheduang townships.
However, the motion was tabled at the request of Tun Aung Thain, a lawmaker representing Buthidaung.
Hardcore terrorists who approached from the sea tried to get to the Mayu mountain range in the past and systematically committed various terrorist acts, he said, referring to the mountain range spanning part of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, where Muslim militant training activities were believed to have taken place before deadly attacks on police outposts last Aug. 25.
Bringing them [Rohingya refugees] into the southern parts would be like asking for more of that kind of trouble, he said.
The session accepted the motion and decided to discuss it on a later date.
Meanwhile, violence continued to rock northern Rakhine state on Wednesday with an attack on ethnic Mro villagers that killed a woman in northern Rakhine's Maungdaw township, said Tun Shwe, chief of Thit Tone Khwa Sone village. The Mro are a small ethnic group living on Myanmar's borders with Bangladesh and India.
Three Mro men and five women from Laymyo Kaydi village of the larger Thit Tone Khwa Sone village tract were attacked while they were fishing at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, he said.
Those who escaped informed authorities, who summoned police and soldiers. After the police and troops discovered the dead woman's body, they had it transported to Maungdaw Hospital, he said.
Though there was a buildup of police and soldiers in northern Rakhine during and after the crackdown, there are now indications that officials are starting to scale back on security personnel stationed in the region.
Thirty police officers on patrol in troubled Rakhine will be transferred out of the state, local policemen who declined to be named said on Wednesday, adding that authorities have not yet made an official announcement.
A police chief in the region issued the order a few days ago in response to the ongoing problems in Rakhine, they said, but could not provide any further details.
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