Acting at the right time is good diplomacy. It is time for Bangladesh, a stakeholder in the Rohingya refugee issue, to invite former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to visit the two refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and talk to the inmates. The refugees will thus get a chance to relate to him the harrowing tales of brutalities they had endured in their homeland Myanmar. Bangladesh can also have its views known to him as Aung San Suu Kyi, now holding the reins of power in Myanmar, appointed him to head a commission assigned to devise ways and means to finding a permanent settlement of the issue. He can also have a fruitful interaction with the officials of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which takes care of the refugees in Bangladesh.
It is indeed encouraging to note that Kofi Annan has pledged to stay impartial. "To build the future, the two major communities have to move beyond decades of mistrust and find ways to embrace shared values of justice, fairness and equity," Annan said as he arrived in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine. "Ultimately, the people of Rakhine state must chart their own way forward. We are here to help. We are here to provide ideas and advice."
Kofi Annan's appointment is significant. As a human rights campaigner in Myanmar quite rightly said, "It is not a PR stunt taken by Aung San Suu Kyi; there are pros and cons considering the high-profile personality of Kofi Annan". It is a significant step within the military and in one sense it is very significant because it represents or indicates that the Rohingya crisis is no longer internal, it has an international aspect, he pointed out.
Happily, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, burdened with influx of Rohingya refugees, took the opportunity to meet Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi in New York on the sidelines of the 71st United Nations General Assembly in the UN Headquarters. During the meeting, the two leaders discussed outstanding issues between the two neighbouring countries and agreed to resolve all bilateral issues through dialogues. During the meeting, Sheikh Hasina welcomed the Kofi Annan Commission on issues of Rohingya. Aware of different ethnic groups fighting the government troops in Myanmar, Sheikh Hasina indirectly ruled out any shelter of any Myanmar insurgent in Bangladesh. She said she holds 'zero tolerance' stance on terrorism and said Bangladesh's soil will never be allowed for carrying out terrorist activities against any country. Incidentally, several leaders of Myanmar's insurgent groups were reportedly arrested and handed over to the Myanmar authorities in the meantime.
In fact, what is purely a vexed internal issue of Myanmar-the nationality status of Rohingya of Arakan state-has now become a headache for Bangladesh. More so that Myanmar is just a stone's throw from Bangladesh across a tiny river Naaf and mountains. As a result, thousands of Rohingyas, on being persecuted in their homeland Myanmar, naturally found the neighbouring country as the place for their safe refuge. Bangladesh too, taking distressed humanity into consideration, did not adopt draconian policy to push them back to their country as they will further be brutalised and tortured to death by different ethnic groups. While Bangladesh still provides food and shelter to Rohingyas in two make-shift camps, it has failed to stop influx of hundreds of thousands others.
It is now amply evident that the plight of Rohingya refugees in Myanmar has drawn global attention and sympathy. That is why President Barrack Obama, during his trip to the military junta-led country, mounted pressure on Myanmar to recognise Rohingya as its citizens and end all forms of brutalities on them. Even Ban Ki-moon, the sitting UN chief, called on Myanmar to grant citizenship to the the group and respect their right to self-identity as Rohingya. The Kofi Annan-led commission is now investigating the communal conflict pitting the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority although local Buddhists gave him a hostile welcome in Rakhine. Hundreds arrived at Sittwe airport to protest against his visit. Many booed and shouted 'No to Kofi-led commission' as his convoy left the state capital airport. Others held signs reading 'No to foreigners-biased intervention in our Rakhine State's affairs'. A top official in Suu Kyi's party was reported by media as saying that "Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country. We need his advice, whether he's a foreigner or not," he added.
That Bangladesh has always welcomed the fleeing Muslim refugees from neighbouring Myanmar has been acclaimed internationally. Media reports have documented harrowing tales of sufferings of the members of the community in Arakan, which forced them to flee and seek refuge in Bangladesh. The news media was replete with narratives of the desperate people who were lucky enough to set foot in this country.
More than 100 people have been killed - the majority Muslims - while tens of thousands of the stateless Rohingyas have spent the past four years trapped in camps with limited access to healthcare and other basic services. The accompanying photographs of families in boats, pleading for compassion and empathy, only confirmed genuineness of their claims that their life was at stake in the Arakan state. The gravity of the situation was only confirmed by the fact that international agencies working in that region had to pull out its personnel for safety reason.