A virtual summit between Bangladesh and India was held on December 17 when multiple agreements and memorandum of understanding (MoU) were signed. Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, who had been busy with the developments, was in a cheerful mood that day. The Daily Star (DS) grabbed the opportunity and made a phone call to have a discussion with the minister.
"Today is a very good day. Today's conference (virtual summit) with India has been held in a very cordial manner. We are very pleased with it," the minister said on the phone.
DS: It was great that the summit was held in a very cordial atmosphere. Is there any good news regarding two crucial issues -- Teesta water-sharing agreement and border killings?
Momen: You know what the barriers to signing Teesta water-sharing agreement are. Indian government, multiple times, has promised that they would sign the agreement after solving their internal disputes over the issue. So, there is no reason to create an embarrassing situation by raising this question repeatedly. Rather, you should pose this question to the government and media of West Bengal (India). The agreement has already been drafted with signature of some officials concerned. But it cannot be implemented. The Indian central government has agreed to sign the agreement. But it cannot be implemented as public opinion in West Bengal is against it.
DS: Is India making visible attempts to implement it?
Momen: You better ask Indian leaders. I cannot answer on behalf of them. They have promised us that they will implement it and we want to trust them.
DS: How can media play a role in this matter?
Momen: You may ask this question to Indian politicians. It is pointless to ask me this question.
DS: Is there any progress to ending border killings?
Momen: We have been discussing the issue with Indian government for long. The Indian government has already told us that they would not use lethal weapon anymore at the border. The Indian prime minister reiterated this at the summit. They also want to end border killings. But one thing they have said is that there is some criminal activity in the border areas. The criminals use lethal weapons. So, we have to remain alert about them. The criminals may use lethal weapons and explosives and attack Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. They may even attack BSF men after entering into Indian territory. This cannot be called "border killing". This can be termed "killing inside India". Many times, people die in Indian territory, far from the border. They trespass into Indian territory for illegal trading. They often face trouble centring illegal financial dealings. Then, they are killed. The media should disseminate news on the reasons behind such illegal financial dealings. You should expose it.
DS: In many cases, we get information from BGB sources that people are shot dead inside Bangladesh territory…
Momen: Criminals may die inside Bangladesh territory. But the number of such cases is very low. Similar incidents happen in every country across the world, not in Bangladesh only. Around one thousand people die every year in similar incidents in USA. The number is around 1,040 this year. Police have killed them. So, this is not a unique incident for Bangladesh. We don't want anyone to be shot dead. But these are happening across the world. We will be happy, if you can build such a world where no unnatural deaths happen.
DS: Isn't there any alternative way to solve the problem instead of shooting people?
Momen: India is saying they have to open fire on criminals in "self-defence". You know that there are many criminals in the border areas. You may collect information on them and file investigative reports on this issue. In many cases, criminals keep explosives in their possession. These allegations have been raised from the Indian side. We did not investigate into it.
DS: Shouldn't Bangladesh government investigate into the allegations?
Momen: Yes, of course.
DS: How will Bangladesh benefit from the agreements and MoUs signed at the Summit?
Momen: India is our big neighbour. We are getting benefits in many ways as we have a good relationship with them. Our people go there for medical treatment. Besides, India has big investments in our country. So, we are getting benefits in many ways. But, I cannot provide you the exact, accurate information right now. We feel secured. If we have soured relations with our neighbour, we cannot feel secured. India is providing us different types of assistance in multiple issues. Even, India also feels secured for having good relations with us. Both the countries have common target to eliminate terrorism. So, the activities of terrorists have significantly been curtailed.
DS: What is the latest status of discussion with India over the Rohingya issue?
Momen: India agreed with us that Rohingyas will have to return to their homeland. This is the solution. India will provide all-out cooperation to this end. They believe that repatriation of Rohingyas is the only solution.
DS: But India was neutral and refrained from voting in United Nations over this issue. This drew huge criticism.
Momen: It is a strategy of India. India did not vote in favour of us. They were neutral as part of their strategy. They informed us about this earlier. They said, "We will not vote for you because we want to be neutral. We have to deal with Myanmar over some issues." This is the Indian strategy.
DS: China voted for Myanmar…
Momen: China did it for their own interest. We cannot force China to change it. We cannot force China to stop supporting Myanmar. This is their own policy. They have told us that they are helping us. They have already helped us in some ways. But it does not mean that we can direct them.
DS: What is the latest status of discussion with Myanmar to repatriate Rohingyas?
Momen: Our last discussion was held on January 20 of this year. We formed a committee in that meeting. Our DG (director general) and Myanmar ambassador were included in the committee. It was an effective discussion where Myanmar told us that they have prepared booklets over Rohingya issue. We hope to get a good result soon.
DS: Will the process of relocating Rohingyas to Bhasan Char continue?
Momen: We have decided to relocate Rohingyas to Bhasan Char as a temporary arrangement, as a huge number of Rohingyas are living in a congested place. We don't want people to suffer. Even, many people died in landslide. That is why, we have decided to relocate some Rohingyas to Bhasan Char to minimise risks. Local people are dissatisfied with this for multiple reasons. There are some groupings among the Rohingyas. Some Rohingyas have already died in internal violence. That is why, we have decided to relocate few of them to Bhasan Char.
DS: Will all Rohingyas be relocated?
Momen: Normally, around 3,000 people live in per square kilometre in Bangladesh. The numbers are 36 in USA and 15 in Europe. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are there. They said there are very few people in their countries. So, they can take Rohingyas in their countries. There is very limited space in our country. If you can find some space, we can relocate Rohingyas there. We have urged all to take Rohingyas, if they want. But none showed interest. Only Canada said that they would take six Rohingyas.
DS: What is the Bangladesh government's plan? Will all the Rohingyas be relocated to Bhasan Char or some of them will be relocated there?
Momen: We cannot answer this in one word right now.