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Myanmar government’s response to article in Khmer Times about the Rakhine Issue

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(Xinhua/Myanmar State Counsellor Office)

The Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar presents its compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia and has the honour to enclose herewith the response to the article “Cambodia can play strategic role in resolving Rohingya Crisis” in Khmer Times.

The embassy would be grateful if the esteemed ministry could kindly submit the said letter to its high destination. The embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia the assurance of its highest consideration.

The government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar is deeply concerned by the misleading information mentioned in the article, “Cambodia can play strategic role in resolving Rohingya crisis” which appeared on the Khmer Times published on Dec 26, 2019, that could be deceptive to the public over the Rakhine issue.

This article mentioned mostly the narratives and comments of Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, related to the displaced persons from Rakhine State who called themselves Rohingya.

In this regards, the government of Myanmar wishes to request the concerned authority of Cambodia to scrutinise and not to allow such articles to be published in daily newspapers containing misleading facts based on narratives and not on hard evidence that might fuel further tensions further and potentially hinder the Myanmar government’s ongoing efforts in creating the much needed social cohesion in Rakhine State. The issue of Rakhine State is complex and sensitive. Recalling the facts in the article, the government of Myanmar would like to apprise the real situation in Rakhine State as follows.

First, in the comments of the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister, the number of displaced persons who left for Bangladesh is much inflated because the real figure cannot be higher than half a million according to the records.

Second, the terms of ethnic cleansing and genocide were wrongly used in his comment. The situation of armed conflict is ignited by the coordinated attacks of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) terrorist group. Myanmar’s Defence Services were compelled to and unavoidably responded to the attacks of ARSA fighters and many of ARSA terrorists had been recruited from local villages in the weeks and months preceding the attack.

One should bear in mind the complex situation and the challenge to sovereignty and security in Myanmar in assessing the intent of those who attempted to deal with the rebellion. There could have been violations of human rights and infringement of universally accepted norms of justice and rule of law. However, these do not amount to genocide or genocidal intent.

Third, the displacement of thousands of civilians in Rakhine started with terrorist attacks by the ARSA. On Oct  9, 2016, approximately 400 ARSA fighters launched simultaneous attacks on the three police posts in northern Rakhine. ARSA attacks of 2017 were not only against the security forces but also against various communities inhabiting Rakhine state.

Before these events of 2016-2017, Muslims, Buddhists and other communities in Rakhine were faced with underdevelopment and poverty rooted in enduring social conflict between the communities. The violence in Rakhine has rapidly morphed from communal tension into an issue of terrorism that threatens Myanmar’s national security and sovereignty. The threat of ARSA terrorists remains real and present today.

Recently, in Northern Rakhine, an army base near Paletwa was under attack by a group of more than 400 Arakan Army fighters and some 200 insurgents surrounded a military column near Ann City in Rakhine.

In May 2016, the Government set up the Central Committee for Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State and was followed by the establishment of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine in September 2016. The Advisory Commission presented its final report to the Government of Myanmar in August 2017 with 88 recommendations for the Rakhine issue. Accordingly, the Government is implementing more than 80 recommendations.

On July 30,  2018, the Independent special investigation procedure for Rakhine allegations, the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), was established by the president of Myanmar. On  Nov 26, 2019, this commission announced that it had taken about 1,500 witness statements from all affected groups in Rakhine and those from the security forces on duty at the relevant time.

On Jan 20, 2020, the ICOE has already submitted its final report to the President of Myanmar. Based on the findings of the ICOE, necessary actions will be taken through existing domestic legal procedures.

According to the ICOE’s final report, war crimes were committed during the internal conflict in Rakhine by members and collaborators of ARSA, members of Myanmar’s security forces and civilians as well.  The commission also stated that serious loss of life in the villages of crisis has been found no indication of a pattern of conduct that the acts were committed with “genocidal intent”.

Fourth, resolving the issue in Rakhine is an important component of Myanmar’s democratic process. The Myanmar government has taken steps to effect the early repatriation of all displaced persons from Rakhine, who have been verified as residents of the state under the Myanmar-Bangladesh bilateral agreements, namely, the Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State, Terms of Reference for the Implementation and the Physical Arrangement.

To expedite citizenship verification and application in Rakhine State, a mobile team is already in operation. The memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Myanmar and the UN Development Programme/UN Human Rights Commission regarding the repatriation process was signed on June 6, 2018, and extended for another year. The Technical Working Group (TWG) of the MoU has held  coordinating meetings 12 times. The last TWG meeting was on Jan 10, 2020. As of Nov 16, 2018, Myanmar has handed to Bangladesh in total 7,883 names of those verified as Myanmar residents from the list of 8,032 person presented by Bangladesh in January in the same year. As of Jan 14, 2020, a total of 21,633 displaced persons have been verified out of 22,432 persons presented by Bangladesh as a second group.

A number of people had returned of their own volition and under their own arrangements. To date, some more (250) displaced persons have returned from their camps in Cox’s Bazar of their own volition. They have been systematically registered, processed and are now with their own relatives and families in their own homes. However, not even a single displaced person has been repatriated by Bangladesh as part of the implementation of the bilateral agreement although Myanmar has tried twice for commencement of repatriation.

ARSA continues to intimidate and kill those who advocate the return of displaced persons. In order to ensure safety and security for all communities in Rakhine, there is an urgent need for Bangladesh and other stakeholders to cooperate strongly to prevent and secure threats posed by ARSA. The only way to resolve the issue swiftly and peacefully is through the implementation of the bilateral agreements, working together in the spirit of good neighbourliness, refraining from activities that might be inimical for the national interests of either Myanmar or Bangladesh.

Fifth, the Myanmar government is committed to addressing these challenges and is now striving to ensure that all communities enjoy the same fundamental rights. All children born in Rakhine, regardless of religious background, are issued with birth certificates. Arrangements have been made to enable more Muslim youths to attend classes at universities across Myanmar. With the support of international and local partners, scholarships are also offered to students from all communities living in Rakhine to pursue higher education.  The government has started a social cohesion model project in Maungdaw township, to promote social harmony among all communities. Inter-faith forums have been encouraged. There are some of the steps taken to improve livelihoods, security, access to education and health, citizenship and social cohesion for all communities in Rakhine.

Myanmar highly values and appreciates the understanding of the complexity of the issue of Rakhine State and the support of close friends of the Asean member states, including Cambodia.

 

Khmer Times received the above along with  a covering letter and has reproduced Myanmar’s rebuttal  in full here. Khmer Times also stands by the contents of the article published in the Dec, 26, 2019, edition as it was attributed to a direct interview with the Bangladesh Foreign Minister. With the above reproduction of  Myanmar’s response, we consider this matter closed.

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