Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi received a UN Security Council delegation yesterday in the highest-level diplomatic visit since the start of the Rohingya crisis, which will include a brief tour of violence-hit Rakhine State.
Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of mainly Buddhist Myanmar, has been pilloried overseas for her failure to speak up for the Rohingyas or publicly condemn the army for driving them out of the country.
She chaired a meeting of 15 UN delegates yesterday afternoon, according to a Ministry of Information photograph, as the UN tries to put more pressure on Myanmar to allow refugees to return safely, reports AFP.
The delegation, including Security Council President Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, met in Myanmar's capital with Suu Kyi and military commander Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing. They are to travel to Rakhine State, the area from which the Rohingya fled.
They are expected to see the aftermath of the army's crackdown there as well as the government's preparations for taking back the refugees from Bangladesh.
“The ministers will discuss in detail the repatriation of the refugees agreed by the two countries and resettlement plans for the returnees,” Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Myint Thu told The Associated Press. He said the UN delegates would be taken to refugee reception centers as well as villages in northern Rakhine.
The UN delegates will travel by helicopter today over the scarred landscape of northern Rakhine state, the scene of an army campaign starting last August that drove around 700,000 of the minority into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Their visit to Myanmar comes after an emotionally-charged stay in Bangladesh where Rohingya refugees told delegates of their trauma, rape, killing and burning of houses in Rakhine where they have been denied citizenship and other basic rights including healthcare since 1982.
Demands from the refugees and rights bodies are growing louder for referring Myanmar's atrocities to the International Criminal Court as the Southeast Asian country's security forces are accused of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the minority group.
The UNSC has so far failed to take concrete actions against Myanmar mostly because of oppositions from China and Russia.
As the delegation left Dhaka yesterday after a two-day visit, they said they would press Myanmar to ensure the safe return of those who fled into Bangladesh.
However, deputy Russian ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, whose country has supported Myanmar, warned on Sunday that the council did not have a “magic stick” solution.
“We are not looking away from this crisis, we are not closing our eyes,” he said.
They also focused on implementation of the bilateral deal signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in November. No refugees have returned so far.
The UN Refugee Agency negotiated for a tripartite agreement on repatriation, but Myanmar so far refused it. Recently, Bangladesh signed a deal with UNHCR on safe and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya. Myanmar is supposed to sign a deal, but that has not been done yet.
Myanmar's military has kept Rakhine in a lockdown since August, blocking access to independent observers, journalists and many aid groups except on tightly-controlled chaperoned trips.
Rights groups say freedom of movement of the Rohingyas and their access to the marketplaces in Rakhine is limited.
Myanmar's Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Myint Thu told The Associated Press, “The ministers will discuss in detail the repatriation of the refugees agreed by the two countries and resettlement plans for the returnees.”
He said that on Tuesday, the UN delegates would be taken to refugee reception centers as well as villages in northern Rakhine.
Some human rights activists would like to see more aggressive action by the UN.
“The other thing the Security Council should do is refer the situation in Rakhine State to the International Criminal Court,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Friday in a speech to journalists in Yangon.
“The crimes against humanity that were committed against the Rohingya population were clearly of the gravity and severity that they warrant prosecution by the ICC. If impunity were to prevail it would be an enormous injustice to the victims and their families, and it would only encourage a repetition of these kinds of mass atrocities,” Roth said.
Yangon-based independent analyst David Mathieson described the visit as “symbolically quite important” but doused hopes of any immediate diplomatic breakthrough.
He said Suu Kyi's government was grudgingly showing “some semblance of cooperation with the West” to “avert further pressure from international justice initiatives”.