Myanmar tragedy

Myanmar tragedy

A pair of highly respected envoys are to arrive in Myanmar today, and it is hoped the government and army are ready to listen. Top priority for ex-foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai and the former US ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, is the fate of two Reuters reporters who face trial on absurd national security charges. Myanmar has already asked the Thai and American experts for help with their self-made crisis over the Rohingya of Rakhine state.

Myanmar is in a very deep diplomatic hole over the Rohingya, and both the government and the tatmadaw continue to dig. The Aung San Suu Kyi regime has asked Mr Surakiart and Mr Richardson for help. The confused state of Myanmar will make that difficult. The army's role is opaque but hugely influential. Still under the mistaken impression that it can literally impose policy at gunpoint, the army still must be convinced its actions are extremely counter-productive.

Before they buckle down to civilised solutions for the Rohingya problems, Mr Surakiart and Mr Richardson want to solve the case of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were arrested while covering the flight of Rohingya refugees in the wake of violent suppression in Rakhine state. Official legal charges allege they broke the Official Secrets Act. In reality, they discovered a massacre of Rohingya men at a sad village, Inn Din. They were arrested and shackled as they were about to report that story.

Mr Surakiart and Mr Richardson are going to counsel Ms Suu Kyi's government to simply let the men go. Any legal proceedings will have the stench of injustice and kangaroo court. Imprisoning the reporters for up to 14 years will have the unique effect of making Ms Suu Kyi and her entire elected government appear weak, in addition to cruel. On this, diplomatic advice from the Thai government might help the Myanmar leader stand up to do the right thing.

There has been little of that over the Rohingya. The Thai and US ex-envoys were asked by Myanmar to head a new, 10-member international board to advise on how to implement policies to ameliorate and then end the horrific plight of the Rohingya. The army's unfortunately successful campaign of ethnic cleansing is an atrocity against the Muslim group. It has disgusted the world once again with the undisciplined violence of the Myanmar Armed Forces.

A previous international commission under former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan went to Rakhine and then presented Ms Suu Kyi and her government with a number of recommendations on how to proceed. That was the easy part: Start to provide citizenship for Rohingya, prepare properly and then return them from Bangladesh refugee camps. Myanmar leader Ms Suu Kyi has stayed well away from the spotlight but reportedly will attempt to carry out such a programme.

Obviously it will not be easy. An example is that government has actually built a small housing area in Rakhine state to bring back Rohingya refugees. But that is an unrealistic project. The flimsy homes seem entirely a Potemkin village. The Rohingya driven out of their villages are entitled to the return of their land, homes, crops and animals. Instead, Ms Suu Kyi's government is offering to relocate them from a Bangladesh refugee camp to a very similar one, guarded by the Myanmar army.

Following the fair 2015 elections, Myanmar gained prestige and benefit from world opinion and investment. Now there is open talk of war crimes and genocide prosecution. Ms Suu Kyi and her country need badly to arrest their falls from respect. Mr Surakiart and Mr Richardson have the wherewithal to help Myanmar. Beginning with the unconditional release of the Reuters journalists, Ms Suu Kyi and the army would be well advised to take their advice.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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