Bangladesh yet to hold talks with Myanmar junta about Rohingya repatriation

Bangladesh has yet to make direct contact with Myanmar's military rulers over the repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingya people, according to Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen.

Published : 16 Sept 2021, 06:36 PM
Updated : 16 Sept 2021, 06:36 PM

Despite failing to make any inroads in the seven and a half months since the junta assumed power, Momen remains hopeful about sending the refugees back to their homeland.

Addressing the issue on Thursday, Momen said, "As you know from the tripartite talks with China, we have no direct relationship with the new military government in Myanmar."

The two neighbouring countries had signed an agreement over the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees about four years ago. At the time, Myanmar was ruled by the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. But the efforts to send the refugees back fell flat twice in 2019, as the Rohingya outright refused to return.

Hopes of sending the refugees back home were rekindled earlier this year during tripartite talks led by China but the process has since stalled following the military coup in Myanmar in February.

On the current situation, Momen said, "China told us that the military government are trying to stabilise the country first. They will resume the discussions after that.”

In the face of persecution and brutal military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state in 2017, about 750,00 Rohingya poured across the border.

Bangladesh is currently harbouring more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees. Four years after the influx, the repatriation process is yet to get off the ground.

The South Asian country has made repeated calls for an active role of the international community over the repatriation of the Rohingya but to little avail so far.

Bangladesh last held a virtual meeting with Myanmar on Jan 19, with China acting as the mediator.

After the meeting, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said he expected the repatriation exercise to begin in the second quarter of the year.

But the Suu Kyi government was toppled before any steps could be taken to kickstart the process.

Asked about the possibility of a meeting among the foreign ministers of China, Myanmar and Bangladesh on the sidelines of the 76th UN General Assembly, Momen said no progress had been made on the tripartite initiative.

Addressing the matter, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said, "The UN Credentials Committee is yet to decide whether to allow Myanmar's national consensus government to represent the country at the UN or to allow Myanmar's military or interim government."

"Once the matter is settled, there may be a possibility of holding tripartite talks. We are waiting for their decision.”

Foreign Minister Momen said he was "optimistic" about the repatriation of the Rohingya. "The new military government in Myanmar has publicly stated that the previous government had an agreement with Bangladesh, with its neighbour. The three agreements we made -- they will honour them."

"They also said they would hold bilateral talks with Bangladesh and find a solution later. So we are still optimistic. ”

Asked whether the Rohingya issue was slipping down the international community's list of priorities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the crisis in Afghanistan, Momen said, “The Rohingya issue is not lost. You [media] should be applauded. The Rohingya are known to world leaders because of our activities and campaigns. This, I think, is a great achievement. The whole world now knows that they have been persecuted."

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher