Bring peace to Rakhine
This week in 2017, a horrified world witnessed the beginning of brutal raids on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state by Myanmar military and security personnel, which prompted members of the minority group to flee their villages en masse. They crossed the border into Bangladesh before ending up at refugee camps in the southeastern border district of Cox's Bazar.
The Aug 25 crackdown, which involved killings, rapes and the burning of villages, followed attacks on police outposts by an armed faction known as the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (Arsa). Driven by fears of ethnic cleansing, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled the burnt-out shells of their villages in what became one of the world's largest exoduses.
The number of Rohingya refugees living in the camps -- which are susceptible to extreme monsoon-induced weather -- currently stands at about 740,000. Many are children, and they are suffering the most. Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal in November 2017 and, after slow progress, there were hopes the pact would materialise with the first group of Rohingya expected back in their villages early next month, although the exact number cannot be confirmed.
Virtually no Rohingya would likely volunteer to return to Myanmar, where they have complained of ill-treatment by Nay Pyi Taw. Nevertheless, international aid agencies, along with a special panel set up by the late UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, and regional groups such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), are trying to facilitate their repatriation.
The Rohingya crisis is a test for the so-called "Asean Way". It is a tough challenge for the grouping known for its principle of non-interference given suggestions that the group has been complacent in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state.
Shortly before the Asean Summit in June, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai pledged to help facilitate the repatriation process, all the while maintaining that it was up to Bangladesh and Myanmar to discuss the finer details, which range from the screening process to the repatriation time frame.
According to Mr Don, a team from the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) has been dispatched to Myanmar and found that the country "is preparing to receive Rohingya people" and providing them the security that they need.
But such an assessment needs to be verified to ensure that the repatriation is safe and is strictly based on being voluntary -- especially amid reports that the conflict between Myanmar's military and Arsa continues to deteriorate as relations between the Rohingya community and Nay Pyi Taw remain tense due to deep-rooted mistrust.
Under such circumstances, it's unlikely that the repatriation of the first group of Rohingya refugees will take place as scheduled, but the efforts must continue at all levels. There is no doubt about the need for a solution to the ethnic conflict -- but given the situation, what is the solution to be?
While Asean is obliged to maintain its non-interference principle, it should explore other initiatives that might help resolve the conflict -- including talking Nay Pyi Taw into developing inclusive policies as a weapon against discrimination, and bringing about more development in the troubled state.
Of course, conflict resolution is a time-consuming process. But all parties concerned must be aware that a sustainable peace is the only solution.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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