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Rohingya crisis can become security concern for India’s NE: Bangladesh envoy

Bangladesh is looking to India to play a larger role in persuading Myanmar to both halt the exodus of Rohingyas and to ensure the repatriation of those who have fled to other countries, high commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali told HT.

india Updated: Sep 15, 2017 07:10 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rohingya,high commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali,northeastern states
Hamida, a Rohingya refugee woman cries as she holds her 40-day-old son, who died as a boat capsized in the shore of Shah Porir Dwip, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on Thursday.(REUTERS)

The mass exodus of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar has to be tackled urgently as it has the potential of becoming a “huge security concern” for the entire region, including India’s insurgency-affected northeastern states, the Bangladeshi envoy said on Thursday.

Bangladesh is looking to India, as a regional power, to play a larger role in persuading Myanmar to both halt the exodus of Rohingyas from Rakhine state and to ensure the repatriation of those who have fled to other countries, high commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali told Hindustan Times.

Some 400,000 Rohingyas had taken refuge in Bangladesh over the past two decades and their number has almost doubled since the Myanmar Army launched a crackdown in Rakhine following militant attacks on police posts and an army base on August 25. Bangladesh believes India can play a key role in defusing the crisis as Myanmar has not responded to any of its proposals to tackle the issue.

“I am more concerned about my own region but the presence of Rohingya refugees elsewhere could be a security risk for everybody else. It could be used even in your northeast India,” Ali, a former foreign secretary, said.

Bangladesh high commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali. (Facebook)

The envoy evaded a direct response to a question on reports that groups such as the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba had established links with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, but said the Rohingya refugees could “fall victim to the various organisations who are trying to destabilise the region”.

“I’m sure you’re well aware of those destabilising factors (which) we have been working overtime (to counter) during the past four decades, even in the context of northeast India,” he said.

Referring to the attacks in Rakhine on August 25, Ali said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was had shown “zero tolerance” for terrorism and Bangladesh had also offered to conduct joint patrols on the border with Myanmar “so that these terrorists cannot escape”.

He noted there were also media reports that Indian and Bangladeshi security agencies had alerted Myanmar about possible attacks after it “intercepted certain suspicious telephone calls and movements” of terrorists.

Though Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as its citizens, Ali said New Delhi can play a role in persuading Naypyidaw to take back the refugees.

“Myanmar, Bangladesh and India are all BIMSTEC members, and India as a regional power should exercise its good offices to persuade Myanmar for the return of these Rohingya refugees,” he said.

“I’m still very optimistic that India would play a very positive role for the early return of these Rohingyas.”

The solution, he said, will have to be found within the borders of Myanmar. “If we decide to resolve this issue, it will have to be resolved in Rakhine province itself. So defranchising a (segment) of the population will not solve your problem, it will only aggravate the problem.”

The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, formed by the Myanmar government to make recommendations for lasting solutions to problems in the violence-wracked region, has outlined a detailed process for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees by Bangladesh and Myanmar and this should be quickly implemented, Ali said.

Speaking as the first tranche of Indian humanitarian aid for the Rohingyas was delivered to Bangladesh by an Indian Air Force aircraft, Ali said New Delhi had updated its position on the refugees after he met foreign secretary S Jaishankar on Saturday to explain Dhaka’s position.

The joint statement issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Myanmar earlier this month had not gone down well in Bangladesh as it made no reference to the Rohingya issue.

Ali said a new statement issued by the external affairs ministry following his meeting with Jaishankar “added several new factors, because as far as I understand when the joint statement (with Myanmar) was issued, maybe they were not fully aware about the latest situation on the ground”.

First Published: Sep 14, 2017 16:46 IST